Sunday, January 22, 2006

Critics of abstinence-only sex-education programs may be too hasty in judgment. There is support for the method among age groups that count — the young.

According to a new Harris Poll, 56 percent of people ages 18 to 24, and 60 percent of those 25 to 29 think abstinence programs effectively reduce or prevent the occurrence of HIV/AIDS. Another 49 percent of people ages 18 to 24 and 52 percent of those ages 25 to 29 say the programs reduce or prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Among six age groups and three political groups, younger respondents showed the strongest support for abstinence over safe-sex programs.

“The most striking, and surely the most important differences among various demographic groups are the differences between younger and older adults,” the poll states. “Adults under the age of 30 are more likely to believe that abstinence programs are effective, and it is of course these adults who are the main targets for the programs.”

Indeed, the poll found that 43 percent of 30- to 39-year-olds felt abstinence programs were effective against HIV/AIDS; the number fell to 41 percent among those 40 to 49, 37 percent among those 50 to 64 and 31 percent for those older than 65.

Older people less often agreed that the programs were effective against pregnancy — ranging between 30 percent to 33 percent among those from 40-plus to more than 65 years.

The findings also had a partisan divide.

Among Republicans, 50 percent felt abstinence programs were effective against HIV/AIDS and 46 percent felt they countered unwanted pregnancies. Among Democrats, the numbers were 39 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Among independents, the numbers were 34 and 32.

The poll of 1,961 adults was conducted Dec. 8-14..

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services set aside $31 million two years ago to help 50 communities in 22 states and the District develop abstinence-only education programs. A first-year review by HHS revealed a cultural change: Majorities of the participants had experienced a change in attitude.

The agency found that students had become more supportive of abstinence and less supportive of teen sex, with a keener awareness of the consequences for risky behavior.

Researchers at Ohio’s Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine had similar findings after they examined the effectiveness of For Keeps, an abstinence-until-marriage program for 25,000 students in Cleveland.

“Abstinence-only intervention can influence knowledge, beliefs and intentions, and among sexually experienced students may reduce the prevalence of casual sex,” said epidemiologist Elaine Borawski.

“Kissing is Good,” an investigation of youthful sexual behavior released last month by the University of Tennessee, found that teens who only kissed had “better relationships” with one another — and in future romances.

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