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IFPA Question the Long-Term Effectiveness of Abstinence Only Sex Education

By June 30, 2004News

– Release date: 01 July 2004

What is Silver Ring Thing and Where Do They Get Their Funding?

Silver Ring Thing is an American sexual abstinence program created in 1995. According to their website, “The program was designed to attract the attention of the typical 21st century teenager and offer them protection from the destructive effects of America's sex obsessed culture.” The promise to abstain from sex is symbolized by a silver ring worn by its participants that can be purchased at the events.

Starting with their first event in late June 2004, Silver Ring Thing will begin a tour of the UK and Ireland with the aim of recruiting European Youth to make a pledge of abstinence until marriage. At present, Silver Ring Thing is receiving 700,000 USD from the United States Federal Government to promote its abstinence only platform.

Does It Work?

Although there has appeared to be an overwhelming short-term response to the program, the long-term results are less hopeful. According to a Columbia University study, young people quickly return to engaging in sexual intercourse after making a pledge of abstinence and with much lower rates of contraceptive use.

Furthermore, teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage have the same rates of sexually transmitted diseases as those who don't pledge abstinence. The study was released in March 2004 and examined the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents, finding that those who pledge virginity are much less likely to use condoms once engaging in sexual activity. In a report by CBS News, one of the co-authors stated that, "It is the combination of hidden sex and unsafe sex that creates a world where people underestimate the risk of STDs."

Conservative proponents of abstinence only focused programs would argue that it is lax morals and a permissive welfare state resulting in comprehensive sex education and access to contraception that encourages the high prevalence of teenage pregnancy and STIs found in both the UK and the United States.

However, United Nations Population Fund Figures show that this notion is actually the opposite of reality. Countries such as Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Germany, with explicit contraceptive education, comprehensive sex education that explores a wide rage of options (including abstinence), and nationwide networks of youth clinics able to provide confidential counseling and free contraceptives, are actually at the lowest end of teenage pregnancy and STDs among young people.

Germany and Norway produce 11 babies per 1,000 teenagers, Finland produces 8 per 1,000, Sweden and Denmark 7 per 1,000, and the Netherlands 5 per 1,000.

In contrast, countries such as the United States and United Kingdom, which heavily limit access to comprehensive sex education and contraceptives endure the highest figures of unwanted teenage pregnancy and STDs within the developed world.

The United States produces 53 babies per 1,000 teenagers, a record higher than that of India, the Philippines, or Rwanda while the UK produces 20 per 1,000.

What Do Comprehensive Sex Education Advocates Say?

Choice USA, a U.S. based reproductive health non-profit organization states that, “While abstinence is an important message, it cannot be the only option given to teens.
Teens must be given information about all their options in order to make responsible choices if and when they decide to become sexually active. There is growing evidence that teaching only abstinence is actually harmful to teens. ‘Abstinence-only’ education promotes a climate of shame, fear and embarrassment where teens are unable to discuss sex.”

In accordance with Choice USA, the Alan Guttmacher Institute states that, “To date no education program in [the United States] focusing exclusively on abstinence has shown success in delaying sexual activity.

In the meantime, considerable scientific evidence already demonstrates that certain types of programs that include information about both abstinence and contraception help teens delay sexual activity, have fewer sexual partners and increase contraceptive use when they begin having sex. There is no evidence that the "wait until marriage" message has any impact on young people's decisions regarding sexual activity.”

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References:

11 May 2004. Joy of sex education: George Monbiot America’s virgin soldiers are on their way- ignoring the dangers of abstinence for teenagers. The Guardian.

Barkham, Patrick. 10 May 2004. Teens told a silver ring and a vow of chastity are best way to combat sexual epidemic. The Guardian.

Choice USA. 12 May 2004. Teen Rights. Choice USA.

Dailard, Cynthia. 12 May 2004. Understanding abstinence implications for individuals, programs, and policies. Alan Guttmacher Institute

Quinn, David. 11 May 2004. Over sex and over here: US virgins target our teenagers. The Irish Independent.

Straziuso, Jason. 9 March 2004. ‘Abstaining’ teens still get STDs. CBS News