Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact [PDF]
Name of Program: Abstinence Education and Related Services (AERS) Initiative
Federal Funding Source: Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act (the state entitlement for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs established under "Welfare Reform" in 1996)
Funds Allocated: In federal fiscal year 2003, the federal government allocated $1,820,070 in Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage funds to Pennsylvania. The state allocated an additional $1,365,053 of its funds to support the program, bringing total program allocation for federal fiscal year 2003 to $3,185,123.2 Further, Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA) secured earmarks of approximately $3.15 million within the federal fiscal year 2003 Omnibus Appropriations Bill for individual Pennsylvania abstinence-only-until-marriage programs.
ProgramReach/Program Components: The goal of AERS was the prevention of out-of-wedlock births to teenagers through the promotion of sexual abstinence. Twenty-eight different abstinence-only programs were delivered to youth in Pennsylvania to address this goal. Curricula included: Sex Can Wait; Me, My World, My Future; Postponing Sexual Involvement (without its contraceptive component, ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', ', '); Managing Pressures before Marriage; WAIT; and a few locally developed curricula. An average of 22,000 youth per year received the abstinence-only programming.
Target Population: Youth 12 and older
Timing of Program/Evaluation: August 1998 through September 2002
Evaluation Design: 13 of 28 programs participated in a survey-based, quantitative evaluation design; a comparison group was the required minimum criterion for participating in the quantitative evaluation. Eleven programs were evaluated only through focus groups with youth; four programs were not evaluated.
Findings: Of the 13 programs quantitatively evaluated, seven had no effect, two had a negative effect on reducing early sexual onset, and four had a positive effect. Effects diminished by the time youth reached ninth grade.
Urban Sites: Of the four urban sites, the program had no effect in two sites and some modest behavioral and attitudinal effects in two sites. Both more effective sites served high risk youth and offered fairly intensive programs with multiple, complementary components. Even in these two programs between 11.5 and 25 percent of participants reported sex at posttest, and at one site (La Salle), most had initiated sex between pre- and posttest.
Semi Rural/Non Urban Sites: There were three semi-rural sites. Perry and Verango counties' programs showed little or no effect on the youth served; participants in these programs were no more likely to be sexually abstinent than comparison youth and there were no measurable effects on participants' attitudes, skills, intentions, or knowledge. By the end of eighth grade, 15 to 18 percent of participants were sexually active.
In Beaver County, the multi-year program produced more positive results; but by the end of the 11th grade, 50 percent of male and 40
percent of female participants were sexually active.
Rural Sites: There were six rural sites. Four programs had no positive effect and two had mixed results. For example,
- Bradford County's program was evaluated twice; the first evaluation showed some modest, positive effects on sexual onset (males only) and on intentions; the second demonstrated a positive impact only on refusal skills; no behavioral effects were found.
- Erie County's program had some limited success at changing specific attitudes, but showed mixed effects on behaviors. There was a slight impact on males' behavior (27 percent of male participants with two years of programming were sexually active versus 38 percent of comparison males), but the impact on young women's behavior was negative (42 percent of female participants with two years of programming were sexually active, versus only 27 percent of comparison females).
- Clinton County noted dramatic negative shifts in participants' attitudes and behaviors by the ninth grade. Positive attitudes towards abstinence declined significantly and there was "a concomitant increase in the proportion of young people who experienced sexual intercourse for the first time. Unfortunately, only about half of these sexually active youth used any form of contraception." [p.7]
Significant Quotes from Authors of the Evaluation Study:
- Youth expressed frustration… when staff attempted to tell them what was right and wrong. Youth wanted to be respected for their ability
to weigh information… in arriving at their own decisions regarding sex. [p. 9]
- Youth expressed frustration with the lack of information regarding contraception. They… expected reliable information. Instead, they heard mostly about the potential failures of condoms. [p.9]
- Some programs instilled fear… Many younger youth expressed the concern that sexual involvement could lead to death. [p. 9]
- Sexual violence is real. Many females reported that sexual abstinence was unrealistic in their world. Without prompting, they described episodes of forced sex. [p.9]
- Taken as a whole, this initiative was largely ineffective in reducing sexual onset and promoting attitudes and skills consistent with sexual abstinence. [p.10]
- The evidence from this evaluation indicates that even if the most effective programs are replicated and the proportion of sexually abstinent youth increases, a substantial proportion of youth will continue to become sexually active before graduating from high school in every Pennsylvania community. [p.11]
- For those youth who do not remain abstinent the reduction of teenage pregnancy, STDs, and HIV/AIDS requires an alternative strategy. [p.1]
Return to Introduction
Hauser D. Five Years of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Education: Assessing the Impact. Washington, DC: Advocates for Youth, 2004.