Abstinence-only education can influence teen sexual behavior and beliefs

Abstinence-only education can influence teen sexual behavior and beliefs, according to a Case Western Reserve School of Medicine study published in the American Journal of Health Behavior.

The study examined the effectiveness of For Keeps, an abstinence-until-marriage sex education program that has been presented to more than 25,000 students at public and private schools in the Greater Cleveland area.

The goal of the curriculum, developed by Operation Keepsake is to increase abstinence beliefs and intention, increase efficacy in situational resistance, reduce early sexual experimentation and encourage renewed abstinence among teens already sexually active. The study involved 2,069 middle school students questioned about their sexual knowledge and practices before and five months after receiving the For Keeps curriculum. Students were enrolled in classrooms that were assigned to be intervention or controls (receiving the curriculum after the evaluation was completed.

Researchers led by Elaine A. Borawski, Ph.D., in the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, found that after going through the program, teens reported significant increases in their HIV/STD knowledge, their personal beliefs about the importance of abstinence and their intentions to remain abstinent in the near future.

But the program did not affect students' confidence to avoid risky sexual situations, and sexually inexperienced and female students actually reported a decrease in their intent to use condoms in the future. However, no changes in condom use intentions were observed among sexually active or male students. The study also found that the program did not significantly reduce the likelihood that teens would engage in sexual intercourse or to use a condom consistently

A surprising finding revealed that while sexually active students exposed to the intervention were not more likely to abstain from sex, they did report fewer casual sex encounters and fewer sexual partners than their peers who did not receive the program.

"This community-based evaluation reveals that abstinence-only intervention can influence knowledge, beliefs and intentions, and among sexually experienced students, may reduce the prevalence of casual sex," Borawski said, adding that the intent of teens to reduce their condom use merits further study to determine long-term implications.


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