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Topics In Brief

All Topics In Brief


In this edition:

Is There an Abstinence Movement?

Depending on who you ask, responses differ. True enough, there has been a large (half billion dollar) program created by U.S. Congress welfare reform legislation to fund abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs at the state level. The welfare reform program requires that sexuality education classes teach that "abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage is the expected standard for all school-aged children."

The abstinence-only funding has been available for less than two years, so we don't know very much about the effectiveness of these programs yet. However, it's safe to assume that the welfare reform law has focused attention on teaching young people about the advantages of sexual abstinence.

So, . . . Is it Abstinence-based, Abstinence-plus, or Abstinence-only?

There have been great debates about these distinctions, especially in school district policies. A study recently published in the November/December issue of Family Planning Perspectives provides findings from a 1998 survey of 825 school district superintendents across the country.

Among the findings, authors Landry et al. reported that more than a third (35%) of districts with a sexuality education policy require the teaching of abstinence as the only option outside of marriage. Moreover, "under the vast majority of these policies, contraception may only be discussed in a way that highlights its shortcomings."

However, the authors also note the scarcity of "research demonstrating that the abstinence-only approach is effective in delaying young people's sexual initiation," and previous research indicating that more than 70% of young adults aged 18-19 have already become sexually active. Therefore, the authors recommend continuation of "abstinence-plus" policies (reported by 51% of districts) as a high national priority since these usually provide "adequate and accurate information about contraception even while supporting the choice of young people who are delaying sexual initiation."

And finally, they push for additional research to study the impact that the federal welfare reform law funding abstinence-only-until-marriage education has on school district policies.

For more information, the article can be accessed online through the Alan Guttmacher Institute or in the Family Planning Perspectives journal: David J. Landry, et al, "Abstinence Promotion and the Provision of Information About Contraception in Public School District Sexuality Education Policies." Family Planning Perspectives, November/December, 1999, vol. 31, no. 6, pp. 280-86.

For further information on the different types of abstinence education, visit this month's Educator Skill in ReCAPP's "Effective Practices" section.

Reviews on Abstinence-Only Programs

In an article from SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) entitled "Obstinence or Abstinence? The Choice Between Ideology and Public Health," (SIECUS Report, Volume 24, Number 3), the authors have explored who is doing what, and they provide their view of the federal abstinence-only program.

Among other guidelines related to sexuality education, SIECUS advocates "providing young people with clear messages about abstaining in the context of a broader, more comprehensive program," in "What's Wrong With Abstinence-Only Sexuality Education Programs?" (SIECUS Report, Volume 24, Number 4).

However, if educators are bound by the abstinence-only rule, SIECUS advises teachers to create programs to "increase the likelihood of young people abstaining from sexual relations. These could focus on mentoring, remedial education, sexual abuse prevention, and communications skills." ("Abstinence-Only Education," SIECUS Report, Volume 25, Number 4).

Check out the SIECUS web site,, which offers a list of publications, including their reports.

Dr. Drew's Condom Giveaway Attracts Attention

Dr. Drew Pinsky, host of MTV's Loveline, is giving away condoms to visitors age 16 and older when they register on his website. Registrants receive three condoms and have access to his site, which includes chat rooms, forums, buddy lists, instant messaging, home pages, newsletters, celebrity interviews and question-and-answer sessions with Dr. Drew. Plus, an extra condom is thrown in when individuals inform a friend about the condom offer.

Dr. Drew insists that he's not promoting sex with this condom offer. As he explains, "The reality is that in the U.S., kids begins having sex on average at age 16. We are promoting having safe, healthy sex."

He adds, "The youth of America are in a health 'crisis' -- with incredible incidences of teen pregnancy, STDs and HIV, abusive relationships, addictive behavior and the always difficult lack of communication between parents and their children. is a place where kids can come to meet each other, start and build strong healthy relationships and lives."

It's Your (Sex) Life

The name of a popular brochure for teens is now a website too! The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation is credited with this public education campaign to provide teen-friendly information about pregnancy and contraception, sexually transmitted infections, and hints for communicating with your partner.

You too can "Test Your Sexual Health IQ" at