Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact [PDF]
Name of Program: Abstinence Education Program, Iowa Department of Public Health
Federal Funding Source: Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act (entitlement for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs established under "Welfare Reform" in 1996).
Funds Allocated: In federal fiscal year 2003, the Iowa Department of Public Health received $424,908 in federal Title V funds. In prior years, the state provided its three-to-four match for the Title V funds; but because of budget shortfalls, it was unable to do so in FY 2003. Instead, sub-grantees provided one-to-one matching funds for federal monies.
Program Reach/Program Components: Community and educational programs were delivered through several contractors. The Empower project involved community programs in Atlantic, Clarinda, Eagle Grove, Knoxville, and Pleasantville and an educational program in Pella. The Linn Country project involved a community program throughout the county and an educational program at the College Community Middle School. The Bethany project involved three types of educational programs in several schools. Finally, the I-35 project involved a middle school program for students. Program components varied by site but all included an abstinence-only curriculum, such as Game Plan, Empower, Choosing the Best, Creating Positive Relationships, or Managing Pressures.
Target Population: Populations targeted varied by program site, with the largest range including youth 10 to 17 years of age.
Timing of Program/Evaluation: Year five of the initiative; 2002-2003 academic year
Evaluation Design: Pre- and posttest surveys of abstinence-only participants' attitudes and behaviors at several sites and posttest only at one site; 1,438 students participated in the year five assessment. For this pretest/posttest assessment, lower mean scores indicated more positive attitudes.
A separate analysis used posttest surveys from 1,928 participants and from 4,954 comprehensive sex education students (comparison group). Abstinence-only and APP/comprehensive program surveys included 19 shared questions—which were used as the basis of comparison. For this assessment, higher mean scores indicated more positive attitudes about abstinence as well as increased knowledge and understanding.
Findings: Abstinence-only (pre- and posttest): Of the five programs evaluated, one showed no statistically significant effect on seven of nine measures of attitudes favorable to abstinence. One showed statistically significant positive effects on five of nine attitude measures; two, on seven of nine attitude measures; and one, on eight of nine attitude measures. Regarding intent to abstain, one program showed decreased intent from pre- to posttest; one program had mixed results; and three showed a desired impact on intent to abstain. At the same time, the number of participants reporting ever having had sex increased from pre- to posttest in four of the five programs.
Abstinence-only versus comprehensive sex education (posttest): Abstinence-only students were slightly more likely than comprehensive program students to feel strongly about wanting to postpone sex (mean scores, 1.58 versus 1.53, respectively) and were more likely to feel comfortable saying no to sex (1.62 versus 1.58, respectively). There was little to no difference between the two groups in their understanding of why they should wait for sex (1.61 versus 1.60, respectively).
At the same time, abstinence-only students were less clear than comprehensive students about the meaning of "No means No" (1.47 versus 1.60, respectively), less clear about their attitudes towards pregnancy (1.32 versus 1.51), and less likely to feel their goals shouldn't include teen pregnancy (1.51 versus 1.68). Abstinence-only students were also less likely to know about body changes during puberty (1.23 versus 1.59), less likely to be comfortable asking questions about sex (0.97 versus 1.10, respectively), and less likely to know the costs of unwanted pregnancy (1.34 versus 1.70).
Significant Quotes from Authors of the Evaluation Study:
- An examination of these comparisons shows that where mean responses from youth in abstinence-only programs were higher than the mean responses of students in the APP [comprehensive] programs, these differences were small, (ranging from .02 to .10). Where mean scores for those in abstinence-only programs were lower than those in APP programs, those differences were somewhat greater (ranging from .12 to .36). These comparisons suggest that abstinence-only programs appear to provide more information about 'why' young people should wait to have sex, but APP [comprehensive] program participants are more clear about their attitudes towards sex. [p. 79-80]
- APP [comprehensive] programs also had higher scores among youth who understood how their decisions about sex could change their futures and felt their goals should not include teen pregnancy. [p. 80]
Return to Introduction
Hauser D. Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact. Washington, DC: Advocates for Youth, 2004.