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Abstinence and abstinence-only education

Ott, Mary Aa; Santelli, John Sb

Current Opinion in Obstetrics & Gynecology: October 2007 - Volume 19 - Issue 5 - p 446–452
doi: 10.1097/GCO.0b013e3282efdc0b
Adolescent and pediatric gynecology

Purpose of review: To review recent literature on medical accuracy, program effectiveness, and ethical concerns related to abstinence-only policies for adolescent sexuality education.

Recent findings: The federal government invests over 175 million dollars annually in ‘abstinence-only-until-marriage’ programs. These programs are required to withhold information on contraception and condom use, except for information on failure rates. Abstinence-only curricula have been found to contain scientifically inaccurate information, distorting data on topics such as condom efficacy, and promote gender stereotypes. An independent evaluation of the federal program, several systematic reviews, and cohort data from population-based surveys find little evidence of efficacy and evidence of possible harm. In contrast, comprehensive sexuality education programs have been found to help teens delay initiation of intercourse and reduce sexual risk behaviors. Abstinence-only polices violate the human rights of adolescents because they withhold potentially life-saving information on HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

Summary: Federal support of abstinence-only as an approach to adolescent sexuality education is of much concern due to medical inaccuracies, lack of effectiveness, and the withholding and distorting of health information.

aAssistant Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, Indianapolis, USA

bProfessor and Chairman, Heilbrunn Department of Population & Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, USA

Correspondence to Mary A. Ott, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, Section of Adolescent Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, Indiana University School of Medicine, 410 West 10th Street, HS1001, IN 46202, USA Tel: +317 274 0133; e-mail: maott@iupui.edu

© 2007 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.