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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
UNITED STATES: Program Bolsters Abstinence Intent; But Teen
Cheryl Wetzstein
September 5, 2007
Washington Times (09.05.07) - Wednesday, September 05, 2007

A US Department of Health and Human Services-sponsored study of the effects of a supplemental abstinence program found that teens who participated in the Life Skills Education program were more likely to support an abstinent lifestyle. However, the teens' sexual behaviors were no different than teenagers who did not take the classes.

Christopher Trenholm, a researcher with Mathematica Policy Research Inc., which conducted that study, said that all 604 participants took Heritage Keepers' core abstinence education classes, while half participated in Heritage's supplemental abstinence reinforcement program. When compared to the control group, the Life Skills teens were significantly more likely to support abstinence messages and say they expected to abstain from sex at least through high school if not until marriage.

"That's an important starting point," said Trenholm. "You would not expect to see behavioral changes down the road if you didn't see changes" in expectations.

Yet, 40 percent of both groups reported having sex at least once. In addition, no differences were found in what age they first had sex or in the average number of sex partners.

According to Martha Kempner of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the study shows that "if it's a bad message, you can pound it into a kid's head every day throughout a school year and it's still not going to make a difference." Kempner said she was particularly distressed about the teens' lack of knowledge about condom efficacy. Scientific evidence shows that latex condoms, when used properly, are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission, a fact that the teens still did not know, she noted.

Heritage Keepers receives funding from the federal Title V Abstinence Education program, which is up for renewal later this month. A House-passed bill extends the $50 million-a-year program for two years but, for the first time, allows states to use the money for other kinds of sex education. The Senate has not acted on the legislation.