States that mandate abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states that have more comprehensive programs that also teach other ways to prevent pregnancy, according to Kathrin Stanger-Hall and David Hall.
“This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior. It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries,” said David Hall, a genetics professor in UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and Stanger-Hall’s husband.
The researchers also looked at the influence of other factors on teen pregnancy, such as socioeconomic status, education level, access to Medicaid waivers and ethnicity.
Those factors can influence teen pregnancy rates, but the researchers still found that the more abstinence is emphasized in a state’s official sex education programs, the higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates are.
The states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering not only abstinence, but also proper contraception and condom use, said Stanger-Hall, a professor of plant biology and biological sciences in the Franklin College.
The researchers used pregnancy data from 2005, the most recent year available, she said.
The researchers’ work was published in the online journal PLoS ONE.
The federal government funds more than one type of sex education program, including abstinence-only and more comprehensive approaches; states can choose between them, Stanger-Hall said.