- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2014

At least 40 sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programs have been shown to benefit teens, a new study says.

The findings, which stem from 118 evaluations of programs, show that many kinds of approaches — including abstinence-focused ones — can have positive impacts on teen sexual behaviors, Child Trends Inc. said in its December study.

For years, advocacy groups have battled over “what works” in sex education, with supporters of comprehensive sexuality education denouncing abstinence education as a failure, while the latter protested the “do-it-but-be-safe” mantra of the former.

In its review, Child Trends found that every type of intervention — abstinence education, comprehensive sexuality education, youth development, clinic-based approaches and early childhood education programs — had at least one successful program.

The most powerful interventions seemed to be the ones that encouraged youth to have genuine talks with their parents, wrote Child Trends senior scholars Kristin Anderson Moore and Jennifer Manlove and their colleagues.

Talking with a parent about sex and romantic relationships was “frequently found to be effective in reducing teen pregnancy,” they wrote.

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Other activities that seemed to steer teens away from risky sexual behaviors were doing community service, having assigned “homework” (such as talking with parents about certain issues) and attending a program designed for a specific group, such as Hispanic teens.

For instance, a comprehensive HIV-prevention program called “Sisters Saving Sisters” successfully persuaded young women to avoid risky sexual behaviors in several categories, while the “Making A Difference!” abstinence-focused program encouraged many middle-school students to delay sex or reduce sexual activity.

In addition, the “Be Proud! Be Responsible!” comprehensive sexuality education program led to better teen contraceptive use and fewer risky behaviors, Child Trends said in its report, “What Works for Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health: Lessons From Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions.”

Public health officials note that while U.S. teen pregnancy and birth rates are at record lows, they remain higher than that of many other developed countries.

Public health officials are also concerned about the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among U.S. youth: This month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that young people ages 15–24 years acquired half of all new STDs, and that one in four sexually active teenage women have an STD, such as chlamydia or human papillomavirus.

In their review of 118 scientific studies of sex education and teen pregnancy prevention programs, Child Trends researchers looked at outcomes such as whether a program assisted teens to delay sexual debut, reduce sexual activity, increase contraceptive use if sexually active, avoid STD acquisition and not engage in sexual activity while high on drugs or alcohol.

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Forty programs showed efficacy in at least one of nine outcomes, while another 16 programs had mixed results. The remaining 62 programs did not impact teens in any meaningful way, Child Trends said.

In its recent budget bill for fiscal 2015, Congress allocated $101 million for the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative and $31 million for the Division of Adolescent and School Health programs, said the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States.

Another $5 million is available for abstinence education — now known as “sexual risk avoidance” education — in competitive grants from the Administration for Children and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition, Congress passed a measure to make $12 million in the Title V Abstinence Education program available to interested states. Previous “funding parameters” had blocked access to the funds, said the National Abstinence Education Association.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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