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Topics In Brief

All Topics In Brief

Wait for Sex

This edition of ReCAPP focuses on a recently developed after-school program titled Wait for Sex. This edition of Topic in Brief includes the following sections:


Wait for Sex Goals: Abstinence and Beyond

Funded by the federal Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs (OAPP) and developed by ETR Associates, Wait for Sex is the result of five years of development work that included extensive feedback from a youth advisory committee and several rounds of pilot testing. Its specific goal is to motivate 11- to 13-year-olds to abstain from sexual intercourse by giving them the knowledge and skills to do so.

But the program's components have even broader potential. For example, because the program is based on principles of social learning theory, youth development, and service learning (described in greater detail below), it has the potential to affect a wide range of beliefs and motivations. These include an expanded notion of future options and increased comfort discussing sexuality with parents or other trusted adults.

Wait for Sex Program
Overall Goal and Learning Objectives

Project Goal
Youth between the ages of 11 and 13 years old will report increased motivation to abstain from sexual intercourse.

Objective One
As a result of participating in the after-school abstinence program, youth will report an expanded notion of possible future options and demonstrate the skills needed to realize those options.
Objective Two
As a result of participating in the after-school abstinence program, youth will identify the benefits of abstinence and demonstrate the skills needed to avoid unwanted sexual activity.
Objective Three
As a result of participating in the after-school abstinence program, youth will report increased comfort in talking with their parents (or other trusted adults) about sexuality.


The Basic Structure:
Youth Sessions, Field Trips, and Parent Sessions

Wait for Sex is a 20-week, after-school program with three elements that work together to support the program's goals. The core of the program is 20 interactive sessions that explore topics such as self-esteem, values, goal setting, friendships and relationships, gender roles, puberty, and abstinence. These sessions build specific skills in goal setting, decision making, active listening, assertiveness, and refusal.

In addition, a service learning project encourages reflection while stimulating practical skills in planning and producing a useful product (a newsletter) as a team.

The second component is a set of field trips, determined and planned by the participants. Field trips serve to complement the 20 youth sessions by providing opportunities for youth and program leaders to connect and have fun outside of the usual program environment. Field trips also serve as an incentive for youth to attend regular weekly sessions.

Four parent sessions form the third piece of the program. (The curriculum provides both English and Spanish materials for parent sessions.) These sessions culminate in an evening for parents and youth together when they can share what they have learned and experienced.


Guiding Principles

In the first year of Wait for Sex's development, a focus group of young people gathered to discuss the factors that they believed were key to promoting abstinence. Their conclusion? It all boiled down to three key factors:
  • Connecting to a significant adult — or adults — who could provide both inspiration and guidance, preferably over a long period of time.

  • Focusing on a goal that could not be achieved if they were to become pregnant.

  • Being involved in sports or other activities that occupied their time, energy, and attention.

It is no coincidence that the guiding principles behind the Wait for Sex program deliberately address each of these factors. Fortunately, the views of the young people who offered their opinions coincide with a growing body of research evidence. In fact, each Wait for Sex program element — the content of the student sessions, the service learning project imbedded in them, the field trips, and the parent sessions — is directly linked to research and health behavior theories that show that a broader view of prevention is more effective than a narrow focus on sex education alone.

Included in these guiding principles are youth development approaches, service learning, social learning theories and strong communication and connection with adults and community. In addition to links to more information about each of these principles, they are briefly described below.

Youth Development Approaches

Youth development approaches respond to several gaps in traditional programs for youth. First, they are broad, addressing several behaviors, risks, and protective factors at once instead of focusing narrowly on one behavior or another. As teen pregnancy evaluator and senior ETR researcher Doug Kirby has written:

"…Youth may have the knowledge, skills, and ability to get and use contraceptives, but if those youth are not connected to family and school and do not believe that their future is promising and worth protecting, then they may not be highly motivated to avoid teen pregnancy; and if they are not highly motivated to avoid pregnancy, they are not likely to take the steps needed to use contraception consistently. Thus, motivation and other non-sexual antecedents must be addressed."1

Youth development programs address these factors by emphasizing and building attributes that help adolescents in many different ways — instilling confidence, creating connections to adults and communities, and building competence and skills in everything from academic performance to artistic expression, physical and emotional health, and civic engagement. These positive emphases on youth assets and on connections to adults and communities are also highlighted in the Wait for Sex philosophy, content, and activities.

Service Learning

Service learning programs are educational experiences that accomplish several goals at once. Typically much more intense than simply volunteering, service learning programs aim to engage young people in projects that meet genuine community needs.

The four central components include preparation and training, some type of meaningful voluntary service, discussions that promote reflection on the experience, and some type of recognition or celebration. Rigorous evaluations of service learning programs like the Teen Outreach Program (TOP) offer strong evidence that involvement in these types of activities prevents teen pregnancy.

Wait for Sex incorporates the elements of service learning through a newsletter project. Four of the 20 youth sessions (Sessions 6, 7, 8, and 9) are devoted to preparing, producing, and reflecting on a newsletter project. Program participants begin by choosing a topic that is a concern in their community — such as drug use or graffiti. After learning basic interview skills, the young people gather information about the problem and possible solutions from a range of people in the community. They then present their findings in a finished newsletter.

Like other service learning models, the newsletter component of Wait for Sex involves young people, engages them in a meaningful activity that promotes both learning and connection, and then offers them opportunities to reflect on their accomplishment

Social Learning Theory

Social Learning Theory (SLT) is one of many theories that have tried to explain the complexities of human behavior. First conceptualized and described by Albert Bandura in the 1960s, SLT and its variants describe the interplay among cognitive factors (such as knowledge, expectations, and attitudes), environmental factors (e.g., social norms), and behavioral factors (specific skills and a sense of self-efficacy).

In practice, applying this theoretical model to the challenge of persuading an adolescent to abstain from sexual activity would require a combination of knowledge, skills (and practice using them), positive attitudes and optimism about using those new skills, and support and positive reinforcement from peers and others in the community. Not only are these elements central to the Wait for Sex program, but they are also the model for many effective teen pregnancy prevention programs (including Reducing the Risk and Be Proud! Be Responsible!)

Connections to Adults, Especially Parents

The connections between parents and adolescents — defined as a combination of support, closeness, and warmth — are a function of many variables. These variables can include parents' attitudes and values, levels of supervision, family structure, and even biological and hereditary influences.

Because of this complexity, it is not surprising that a recent review of 30 studies of parent-child connectedness and teen pregnancy outcomes had difficulty reaching any definitive conclusions. However, author Brent Miller did note that, "While parents cannot determine whether their children have sex, use contraception, or become pregnant, the quality of their relationships with their children can make a real difference."2

The Wait for Sex program acknowledges the importance of this relationship between adults and youth and explores the potential for improved communication through clearer understanding and specific skills (such as active listening).

The four parent sessions that are part of the Wait for Sex program are offered in English and Spanish. During these sessions, the parents, like their children, learn about puberty and adolescent development and practice active listening skills. The last session is a joint one, bringing together parents and youth to demonstrate and celebrate their new comfort discussing sexuality with one another.

In addition to the four-part workshop series, parents are encouraged to work with their children to complete take home "family activity" assignments. They are also offered the opportunity to chaperone field trips.


Evaluation of the Wait for Sex Program

It is important to note that Wait for Sex has yet to be rigorously evaluated for evidence of behavior change. ETR Associates hopes to seek funding to conduct further evaluation of the program. Wait for Sex process evaluations (focusing on participant satisfaction) were quite positive. Participant pre- and post-test evaluations demonstrated change in participants' knowledge, attitudes and future behavioral intent.


Is Wait for Sex training available?

Yes! If you are interested in training staff in the Wait for Sex Program, please contact ETR's Training Department at:


Other abstinence-based programs

Three other abstinence-based programs that have undergone rigorous evaluation and shown to be effective in changing behavior are worthy of mention here. These three programs were also designed with middle school youth in mind.

  • Making A Difference! An Abstinence Based Approach to Prevention of STDs, HIV and Teen Pregnancy is an eight-module curriculum that provides young adolescents with the knowledge, confidence, and skills necessary to reduce their risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), HIV, and pregnancy by abstaining from sex. For more information about Making a Difference!, visit Making a Difference! in ReCAPP's Programs That Work section or

  • Not Me, Not Now is an abstinence-oriented, pregnancy prevention program which was developed by the Monroe County Health Department in response to high teen pregnancy rates in Rochester, New York. For more information about Not Me, Not Now, see ReCAPP's journal summary of the program or go to:

  • Draw the Line, Respect the Line features English/Spanish worksheets and a Latino-sensitive approach, stresses that postponing sexual activity is the best plan, covers setting limits to prevent HIV, STD and pregnancy, discusses social pressures and challenges to personal limits, and provides opportunities to practice communication and refusal skills. For more information about the Draw the Line, Respect the Line program visit:

1The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Start Early, Stay Late: Linking Youth Development and Teen Pregnancy Prevention. Washington, DC: Author.
2Miller, Brent C. 1998. Families Matter: A Research Synthesis of Family Influences on Adolescent Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.