Monday 16 May 2011

Myth Busting Monday: 'Abstinence education is a really good idea'

So, a topical myth-bust today in light of Nadine Dorries' recent proposal that young women be taught abstinence education in schools. Lisa has already blogged on that issue here; so today is all about debunking the myth that abstinence education actually works, i.e. empowers young people to delay sex, and reduces levels of STIs and unplanned pregnancies.

The Sex Education Forum gives a very sensible, straight-forward account of abstinence education here. In answer to the question 'Does abstinence education work?' it states:

'There is no evidence that ‘abstinence – only’ education either reduces teenage pregnancy or improves sexual health (Kirby 2001 & Swann et al 2003). There is also no evidence to support the claims that the teaching of contraception leads to increased sexual activity (Swann et al 2003).'

Worryingly, the research suggests that such programmes which withhold information about sexual health can place young people at higher risk of STIs and unwanted pregnancy. Not a huge shock to anyone with some common sense.

In terms of abortion education, we hear similar arguments from the 'abstinence-brigade' against giving young people information about pregnancy options. There is a sense that if you tell young women what abortion is and where you can access information and services they'll all want to run out and have one. In fact, our own student evaluations tell us that having the space to think about pregnancy decision making actually motivates the young people we speak to to use contraception and consider the choices they make. The University of Southampton's report on second trimester abortions shows that some women's lack of information on what abortion involved, or where to access it, meant that they delayed the procedure, with possible increased risks to health.

All of this is why we side with those, like the Sex Education Forum who believe in educating young people about sex and pregnancy in a balanced way, helping them to think about not just how to prevent unwanted pregnancies but examining their motivation to do.

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