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March 1st, 2010 by Toni Overton

Don’t ignore study on teen sexual behavior

By Ruth Anne Eccles, Executive Director of Equipping Youth

Posted in the Cedar Rapids Gazette on February 14, 2010 by Jeff Tecklenburg

In the battle to discover what works to curb teen sexual activity, a study released recently in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine reports important, positive outcomes for high-risk, African-American, middle school students.

The study shows that a high-risk population of sixth and seventh graders receiving abstinence-centered education reduced sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners (a crucial determinant in acquiring a sexually transmitted disease or STD) and further showed that abstinence instruction did not deter the use of condoms (a common charge brought by anti-abstinence critics).

Of particular note, students were significantly less likely to initiate sex with the abstinence-centered approach than any other sex education strategy.

If we are serious about reaching all teens with the skills they need to resist sexual activity, the findings supporting the effectiveness of abstinence education should not be ignored.

Equipping Youth, a non-profit organization in Cedar Rapids, has been teaching abstinence-centered curriculum similar to the effective lessons in this study for the past eight years. Powerful Choices is taught in more than 20 schools in the Greater Cedar Rapids Community. This holistic, abstinence-centered curriculum is favored by the schools’ administrators, educators, youth leaders, parents and students. Preliminary evaluation results of Powerful Choices’ effect on seventh graders, being conducted with the University of Iowa, show significant knowledge, attitude and behavior change among participants. The long-term impact on teens’ sexual behavior at six and 12 months continues to be studied.

Providing our parents and schools with choices regarding the type of sex education their children are offered not only respects local control but underscores the fact that abstinence-centered education is an important response to the complex issue of teen sex. Iowa’s schools should not be forced to provide only “safe sex” or “comprehensive sex” educational curriculum for lack of funding or legislation making only comprehensive sex education compulsory for K-12 grades. Abstinence-centered education offers the only primary prevention message of risk avoidance.

The Obama administration eliminated abstinence education from the 2010 budget, a decision that jeopardizes the sexual health of Iowa’s youths, as well as America’s youths. Equipping Youth received a federal award through the Department of Health and Human Services to teach abstinence-centered education for five years in Iowa, but these funds have been cut off at the end of three years because of this decision.

The positive outcomes of this study provide our Iowa legislators and governor, as well as President Barack Obama, important data for their decisions concerning sex education. We urge a crucial course adjustment in funding so that abstinence-centered education can continue to work to reach teens.

Our governor and legislators should heed such scientific findings and reinstate Title V abstinence funding for our public health departments and Iowa’s schools. Supporting effective ways to reach teens should be our primary concern and separate funding for effective approaches will help in continuing to address this complex issue of teen sex.

Equipping Youth has never claimed to be the only option and source for teens’ needs. It takes all of us to assist youths in making the best choices for their futures.

For additional information, you may read the Medical Institute’s newsletter “Abstinence Ed Program Successfully Delays Sexual Debut” at http://content.enewslettersonline.com/17125/33558.html.