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Sex ed doesn't encourage sexual activity, study finds

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sex education programs do not speed up teenagers' experimentation with sex, and might actually delay it, a study released Wednesday said.

"Programs do not increase sexual activity," said Douglas Kirby, author of the study released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "They do not hasten the onset of sex. They do not increase the frequency of sex, nor do they increase the number of sexual partners. In fact, some, but not all, the programs actually delayed sex, decreased the frequency and decreased the number of pregnancies. So it's very encouraging."

The study examined 73 previously published studies, most of them dealing with sex education.

Programs to prevent teen sex
A new report calls for the dual message of abstinence and safe sex for teen pregnancy prevention. CNN's Elaine Quijano reports (May 30)

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Four out of 10 girls in the United States get pregnant at least once before age 20, according to the study. There are nearly 1 million teen pregnancies each year and about half as many teen births.

Teen pregnancy and birth rates declined in the 1990s but the United States still has the highest rates of pregnancy and birth of any comparable country.

The report singled out eight programs that were found to effectively communicate the joint messages of abstinence and safe sex. Five of those were sex education programs, two were community service programs that included discussion session, and one was an intensive program combining sex education, health care and tutoring.

All the programs shared common elements, Kirby said.

"They focused very directly upon sexual behavior," he said. "They didn't talk very broadly about love and relationships and romance, etcetera. They focused upon changing sexual behavior."

Kirby said the programs also gave clear messages about sexual behavior and emphasized abstinence as the safest way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Researchers could draw no definite conclusion about why certain programs seemed more effective that others.

But they agreed that candid conversation does work, and simply talking about sex to teenagers does not encourage sexual activity.

"There still is no magic bullet to reducing teen pregnancy," Kirby said. "There are, however, some strong bullets that show really great promise."

Schools lax in tackling touchy subject?
April 18, 2001
Sex education classes lack vital information, parents say
October 4, 2000
CNN's Pat Etheridge chats about two recent surveys on sex education
September 26, 2000
Abstinence vs. sex ed: What's working?
February 23, 2000

ETR Associates

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