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Argument: Abstinence-only effectively reduces rates of teen sex and pregnancy

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Life Way Christian Resources on Opposing Views - More than 100 organizations have adopted the use of True Love Waits to promote sexual abstinence, in large part because they have seen how well the campaign works and the potential it has to reverse negative trends in communities. They understand that from a medical standpoint, there is no such thing as “safe sex” for an unmarried teenager, as evidenced by the fact that each year nearly 1 million teenage girls become pregnant.

Since 1991, when federal abstinence funding began, births to 15- to 17-year-olds have dropped 43 percent despite a 25 percent increase in that age group. In 1991, 54 percent of teens said they had had sex, compared to 47 percent in 2003. Further evidence that abstinence education works can be found in a study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control, which concluded that both abstinence and contraception contributed to the decline in teen pregnancy rates between 1991 and 2001. The study attributes the majority of the decline in teen pregnancy rates (53 percent) among 15- to 17-year-olds to abstinence and 47 percent to contraceptive use.

One study found that abstinence education programs cut the rate of sexual activity among students roughly in half. In another study, 16 out of 21 studies of abstinence education found youth who received abstinence education had lower rates of sexual activity when compared to youth who did not receive abstinence training.

Significantly, there are no negative risk factors associated with virginity pledges, but the same cannot be said for teaching teens about using condoms and other forms of birth control. Even setting aside the physical risks, can a condom protect your heart?

While studies about teens’ sexual behavior sometimes have contradictory findings and conclusions, the true measure of success is changed lives. True Love Waits frequently receives correspondence such as this letter from Caroline in Colorado Springs: “I was part of the [Washington] D.C. ‘94 event, and first made a commitment to abstinence until marriage… Although it was not easy…I can say it was definitely worth the wait and we have no baggage in our marriage because of past partners or troubling diseases."

“Ironically, my cousin Emily was in Athens, Greece, this past summer…[She] was part of the True Love Waits event, and signed her own card as well...So from one of your first events to your most recent event, you are touching lives and encouraging teens. I know at least five to six in my youth group who are now married and were virgins when they married and signed that pledge!”

If you approach a commitment to sexual purity by saying, “I’m going to try to live a pure life,” you are probably going to fail. When the going gets tough, you’re likely to crumble unless you have made a commitment to gut it out. People get in trouble when they make a commitment trusting in their own power to carry it out. You will need God’s power to remain sexually pure. If you make the decision now to abstain from sex, then you will already know the answer before you encounter any compromising situations.

Robert Rector. "The Effectiveness of Abstinence Education Programs in Reducing Sexual Activity Among Youth". Heritage. 8 Apr. 2002 - Despite claims to the contrary, there are 10 scientific evaluations showing that real abstinence programs can be highly effective in reducing early sexual activity. Moreover, real abstinence education is a fairly young field; thus, the number of evaluations of abstinence programs at present is somewhat limited. In the near future, many additional evaluations that demonstrate the effectiveness of abstinence education will become available.

"Abstinence Works!" Studies Validating the Efficacy of Abstinence Education". Christian Science Monitor. 12 Apr. 2007

  1. YRBSS, Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behavior, CDC 2005i Results: 13% decline reported in the proportion of U.S. teens who have initiated sexual activity from 1991 (54%) to 2005 (47%). Conclusion: Fewer teens are having sex which means more teens are choosing abstinence.
  2. Santelli, Journal of Adolescent Health, 2004ii Study: The national Youth Risk Behavior Survey provided estimates for sexual activity and contraceptive use among teens aged 15-17 years between 1991 and 2001 (n=31,058). This data was combined with other data from the National Survey of Family Growth. Calculations were made to determine relative contributions to the annual change in risk of pregnancy. Results: 53% of the decline in pregnancy rates can be attributed to decreased sexual experience. Conclusion: Abstinence has substantially contributed to the decrease in teen pregnancy.
  3. Reasons of the Heart, American Journal of Health Behavior (in press)iii Study: The study was designed to evaluate the impact of an abstinence education program on the delay of sexual initiation and on possible cognitive mediators of sexual initiation for virgin 7th graders in suburban Virginia. A quasi-experimental design involving 820 7th grade students was used with 3 middle schools receiving the program and 2 middle schools with similar demographics serving as the comparison group. Results: Adolescent virgins who received the program were approximately one-half as likely as non-participants to initiate sexual activity after one year (P<.05). Conclusion: Abstinence education reduces sexual initiation over a twelve month period.

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