Sex-ed found to prolong teen virginity

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A new study shows that sex education of any kind appears to be good for teens — as long as they get it while they’re young.

“Sex education seems to be working,” said epidemiologist Trisha Mueller, whose study with two colleagues appears in the January issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.

Miss Mueller, who works for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, looked at more than 2,000 teens, aged 15 to 19, in the National Survey of Family Growth.

Teens were analyzed by whether and when they had any formal sex education, as well as their sexual history and use of birth control.

The researchers found that girls who were virgins when they received sex education were more likely to stay virgins than peers who didn’t have sex education. The virgins with sex education also were more likely to stay virgins past age 15, or 10th grade. The same effects were seen among boys.

Having sex education while a virgin also seemed to have a positive influence on birth-control use among girls — they were more likely to use it when they started having sex — although no effect was seen in the boys.

The study didn’t identify what kind of sex education teens received, so it didn’t draw any conclusions about the effectiveness of abstinence education versus other types of sex education, wrote Miss Mueller and her colleagues.

However, the public’s strong support for formal sex education seems justified, they said. If more teens received sex education before they started having sex, it should help them keep their virginity longer, decrease the number of teens who start having sex before age 15 and increase the number who use birth control when they become sexually active, they concluded.

Separately, a study of an abstinence program in Northern Virginia found that students who participated were more likely to delay first sex than peers in regular sex-education classes.

Stan Weed, director of the Institute for Research and Evaluation, studied seventh graders in three Fauquier County middle schools who participated in the Reasons of the Heart (ROH) abstinence program. He and his colleagues compared the ROH students with peers in two other middle schools who received family-life education. All 550 students were virgins when the study began.

A year later, 9.2 percent of the ROH students had had sexual intercourse, compared with 16.4 percent of the students in the family-life program. ROH students also were more likely to be positive about staying abstinent until marriage.

The findings suggest that “abstinence programs can achieve significant reductions in teen sexual initiation,” wrote Mr. Weed, whose study appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior.

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