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Group Finds Educating Teens Empowers Abstinence

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10 November 2007: If you say "no to sex" as a teenager there is no financial reward -- but kudos can be nice just the same.

But if you are running the cheerleading program that teaches teens only to chant "just say no to sex," you are financially rewarded handsomely by the federal government.

There is currently a measure before Congress to award (or reward) $141 million in additional funds to abstinence only program organizers in the United States. The grants would be handed-out through the Department of Health and Human Services.

The heart of the issue though, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (NCPTUP,) is that abstinence only programs haven't worked.

Douglas Kirby, doctoral researcher at health education firm ETR Associates, found that abstinence programs alone do not delay teenagers from initiating sex, nor from practicing the act with multiple partners.

Sex education programs --along with abstinence support-- were having positive outcomes, Kirby wrote for the NCPTUP, including delaying initiation, reducing frequency of the act and of sexual partners, and increasing use of contraceptive devices when engagement is on their minds.

Kirby added that abstinence only advocates, who are likely to qualify for Congressional funds, wrongly claim that having sex increases likelihood of engagement and confuses the teen into having sex more often.

The report found instead that educating teenagers about the sex improved their knowledge of risks, and found more teenagers opted to "just say no" when they were told the consequences of having sex early in life.

NCPTUP found that there were key instruments in a sex education / abstinence programs that work by incorporating: Nuances of the local community norms; prevention programs for sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and behavior; a safe environment to foster open dialog with teens; activities to overcome barriers associated with participation. The program should be modeled in such a way that it filters down to a customized plan for each individual teen given that students' histories, backgrounds, and development are too diverse for "one fits all."

It is estimated that half of high school teens report having sex at least once during the four-year schooling. Very little research is available for sexually active teenagers born before 1970, but if you ask your grandparents they are just as likely to tell you the percentage hasn't changed since they were teens.

NCPTUP's website offers reading material and program information for teens, parents, faculty, and politicians.


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