Buried among the many changes to health programs in this year’s federal budget was an important one for young people. Congress added new funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, bringing the annual total to $90 million. And then in July, the Department of Health and Human Services announced it would end funding for the Office of Adolescent Health’s evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention program next year.
That program’s mission is to test and evaluate new and old prevention programs based on the best available science. But there’s no testing needed before the office shuts down to evaluate abstinence-only education. Research about abstinence-only programs is already quite clear, as we document in two new scientific papers in the Journal of Adolescent Health. They don’t work, and they don’t prepare young people for life.
Abstinence-only now has a new name: “sexual risk avoidance.” A new name doesn’t fix the fundamental problem. Abstinence-only programs do not prepare young people for life — and they do a poor job of preparing them to avoid sex. My training in pediatrics and medical ethics suggests that we instead should give young people all the information they need to protect themselves and to promote lifelong healthy sexuality.
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