Monday, May 15, 2006

The Attack on Abstinence Education: Fact or Fallacy"

HT: Birth Story

This paper looks at two articles published in The Journal of Adolescent Health: "Abstinence and abstinence-only education: A review of US policies and programs", and "Abstinence-only education policies and programs: A position paper of the Society for Adolescent Medicine".

The authors took a hard look at these articles:
We obtained copies of the referenced materials and examined them to determine how accurately the authors had interpreted the evidence. Where provocative words and phrases were used (eg. "censorship," "misinformaiton"), we searched the documents for these words and phrases. We also evaluated additional authentic references addressing abstinence education that had been omitted from this review article. As necessary, we consulted experts in the field.

And what did they find? "[A] significant number of serious omissions, misrepresentations, deviations from accepted practices, and opinions presented as facts. Logic, if employed, was often faulty."

Here are some of the shortcomings found:
  • "Key points are substantiated by non-peer-reviewed sources."
  • "The authors repeatedly state that a source says something, when it fact it does not."
  • Rather than citing original source documents, "these authors cite secondary and tertiary sources."
  • The authors "cite opinion pieces and editorials" and "on-line news magazines."
  • The authors do not inform the reader when the cited source was not peer-reviewed. (This is done in dozens of instances.)
  • Many assertions are not referenced at all.

One striking feature of the articles is a dichotomy the authors build between "moral" considerations (which they condemn) and "ethical" considerations (which they applaud). In other words, if they disagree with a practice, they scornfully dismiss the practice as forcing "morality" on children. If they agree with a practice, they praise it as "ethical".

One "moral" assertion that the authors of the JAH articles scorn is that of encouraging teens to "be responsible." They also fault the use of the word "virgin" as being a "moral" term.

The JAH authors assert twice that there is no evidence that sexual activity can be harmful to adolescents. This flies in the face of studies that find higher rates of depression among sexually-active teens. It also ignores the obvious risks of STDs and unintended pregnancy, which bring with them considerable stress.

The JAH authors also claim that abstinence-based sexuality education is contrary to parental and adolescent values, even though polling finds over 94% support for abstinence education among parents and over 80% support for abstinence education among the teens themselves.

The critics of the JAH articles go on to look at evidence of success or failure of contraceptives-based versus abstinence-based sex education programs. I encourage you to read this for yourself and draw your own conclusions. But I'll review the results of two community-based abstinence programs:

  • One, in New York, saw a drop in pregnancy rates among 15- to 17-year-olds, from 63/1,000 to 49/1,000.
  • The other, in South Carolina, saw pregnancy rates for pregnancy among 14- to 17-year-olds drop from 54/1,000 to 25/1,000. In the control communities, that did not institute the program, pregnancy rates among 15- to 17-year-olds rose from 46/1,000 to 54/1,000.

    I encourage y'all to read this critique for yourselves.
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