1. Is there evidence that sexual risk avoidance education works?
Despite what some media outlets report, there is a growing body of research that confirms that sexual risk avoidance (SRA) education decreases sexual initiation, increases abstinent behavior among sexually experienced teens, and/or decreases the number of partners among sexually experienced teens.1 And, if individuals do initiate sex after being in a sexual risk avoidance program, they are no less likely to use condoms than anyone else.2
Researchers acknowledge that it takes about a decade before a new program or strategy begins having positive published research. SRA education has received widespread federal funding for little more than a decade, but there is already promising research to show what educators intuitively know – it works!
1 National Abstinence Education Association. (2010, February).Abstinence Works. A compilation of independent, peer reviewed abstinence-centered research that details numerous studies showing positive behavioral impact among students who participate in abstinence education classes.
2 Ibid. Trenholm, Christopher, et al. (2007, April). Impacts of Four Title V, Section 5 70 Abstinence Education Programs. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.
2. Is sexual risk avoidance a “just say no” message?
SRA is decidedly more inclusive than “just say no.” The term, “abstinence only” has been strategically attached to this type of education by opponents to create the false perception that SRA education is a narrow and unrealistic approach. In reality, SRA is overwhelmingly more comprehensive and holistic than other approaches and focuses on the real-life struggles that teens face as they navigate through the difficult adolescent years.
SRA education realizes that having sex can potentially affect not only the sex organs of teens, but also, as research shows, can have emotional, psychological, social, economic and educational consequences. That’s why topics frequently discussed in an SRA class include: how to identify a healthy relationship, how to avoid or get out of a dangerous, unhealthy or abusive relationship, developing skills to make good decisions, setting goals for the future and taking realistic steps to reach them, understanding and avoiding STDs, information about contraceptives and their effectiveness against pregnancy and STDs, practical ways to avoid inappropriate sexual advances and why waiting until marriage to engage in sexual activity is optimal.
So, within an SRA program, teens receive all the information they need in order to make healthy choices. That’s a lot of information and skills packed into a curriculum!
3. Do sexual risk avoidance classes give information about condoms and contraception?
SRA classes explain the various contraceptive choices and how they can reduce the risk of acquiring STDs or getting pregnant. This discussion, however, always stresses the best health choice of avoiding sexual activity as the only 100% way to prevent all risk. Many comprehensive sex education curricula mislead students by providing humanly impossible “perfect use” protection rates for condoms, which give students a false sense of security. By contrast, SRA programs give students the “typical use” protection rates that a condom offers, as reported by the CDC.
A recent national poll of parents demonstrated that 90% want their children to know about the risks associated with casual sex and the limitations of contraception. They want their children to learn about condoms and contraception in the manner provided in an SRA education class.3 It is also important to note that students who have been a part of an SRA class are no less likely to use a condom if they do become sexually active.4
3 Zogby International. (2007, May). Survey of Nationwide Parents of Children Age 10-16 (3/27/07 thru 4/5/07). Retrieved from http://www.abstinenceassociation.org/docs/zogby_questionnaire_050207.pdf.
4 Jemmott, J.B., Jemmott, L.S., Fong, G.T. (2010). Efficacy of a theory-based abstinence-only intervention over 24 months. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.164 (2):152-159.
Trenholm, C, Devaney, 8., Fortson, K., Quay, L., Wheeler,J., & Clark, M.(2007, April).lmpacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Retrieved from http:/www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/ PDFs/ impactabstinenceES.pdf
Kirby, Douglas. (2007, November). Emerging Answers Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy.