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PLoS By Category | Recent PLoS Articles
Public Health and Epidemiology - Science Policy

Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S
Published: Friday, October 14, 2011
Author: Kathrin F. Stanger-Hall et al.

by Kathrin F. Stanger-Hall, David W. Hall

The United States ranks first among developed nations in rates of both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. In an effort to reduce these rates, the U.S. government has funded abstinence-only sex education programs for more than a decade. However, a public controversy remains over whether this investment has been successful and whether these programs should be continued. Using the most recent national data (2005) from all U.S. states with information on sex education laws or policies (N?=?48), we show that increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates. This trend remains significant after accounting for socioeconomic status, teen educational attainment, ethnic composition of the teen population, and availability of Medicaid waivers for family planning services in each state. These data show clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S. In alignment with the new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative and the Precaution Adoption Process Model advocated by the National Institutes of Health, we propose the integration of comprehensive sex and STD education into the biology curriculum in middle and high school science classes and a parallel social studies curriculum that addresses risk-aversion behaviors and planning for the future.
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