March 6th 2010

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Articles from this issue:

SEX EDUCATION: Abstinence-only programs teach young to make wiser choices

FAMILY AND SOCIETY: What fatherlessness costs society

GLOBAL FINANCIAL CRISIS: Greek crisis tips Europe towards double-dip recession

ECONOMIC AFFAIRS: Australian manufacturing: does it have a future?

NATIONAL SECURITY: Terrorist trial a landmark in Australian justice

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS: US arms sales affirm Taiwan's strategic role


Climate-scare game is up (letter)

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Crisis of confidence in Rudd Government

Latest quarantine fiasco (letter)

CLIMATEGATE: No recent global warming, admits Professor Jones

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Federal, state governments veto northern development

FAMILY POLICY: Voters demand equality in childcare maternity payments

INSULATION SCAM: Wheel turns full circle for Peter Garrett

ENERGY: Nuclear energy ... next generation power source

SURROGACY: Next stolen generation - who needs a mother, anyway?

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Giant mosque to overlook UK Sandhurst military academy/Controversial images withdrawn by the Met/Beware of ice cream made in China/Plummeting birthrates threaten global prosperity/Al Gore lying low

Failing schools (letter)

BOOK REVIEW: EMPIRES OF THE SILK ROAD: A History of Central Asia from the Bronze Age to the Present, by Christopher I. Beckwith

News Weekly's prescience (letter)

COVER STORY / EDITORIAL: Moment of truth for Bushfire Royal Commission

Books promotion page

Abstinence-only programs teach young to make wiser choices

by Babette Francis

News Weekly, March 6, 2010
Sex education programs that encourage children to remain celibate can persuade a significant number to delay sexual activity, according to a landmark study funded by a federal grant from the US government.

Only a third of the 6th and 7th grade American students who participated in an abstinence-only program started having sex in the next two years, the study found, while nearly half the students who attended other classes became sexually active.

The results provided the first evidence that abstinence-based programs could work, just as the Obama Administration cut about US$170 million from these programs. Abstinence-education had flourished during the Bush years.

"I think we've written off abstinence-only education without looking closely at the nature of the evidence," said John Jemmott, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who led the study. "Our study shows this could be one approach that could be used."

The study, involving black middle-school students, appears in the February 2010 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, a publication of the American Medical Association. It found the students in the abstinence program showed lower levels of sexual activity even two years later.

The National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA) told that the study shows positive outcomes for high-risk, African-American, middle school students.

The NAEA's Valerie Huber reported: "The study shows that a high-risk population of 6th and 7th graders receiving abstinence-centred education reduced sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners (a crucial determinant in acquiring an STD), and further showed that abstinence instruction did not deter the use of condoms (a common charge brought by anti-abstinence critics).

"The need to provide American parents with choices regarding the type of sex education their children are offered not only respects local control but underscores the fact that abstinence-centred education is an important response to the complex issue of teen sex.

"Federal funding guidelines require all abstinence-centred education to be theory-based, medically accurate, and focused exclusively on health - the very tenets that describe the studied abstinence program.

"The Obama Administration completely eliminated abstinence education from the 2010 budget, a rash and imprudent decision that jeopardises the sexual health of America's youth. The positive outcomes of this study provide President Obama important data for his 2011 budget recommendation to Congress. We urge a crucial course adjustment in funding so that abstinence-centred education can continue to work to reach teens."

Conservative writer, Robert Rector, commented on the new study in the conservative magazine National Review. He wrote: "Employing state-of-the-art evaluation techniques, the study used random assignment to place students into four groups: a group that received instruction solely in abstinence; a safe-sex group instructed in contraceptive use; a comprehensive, or mixed message, group taught both abstinence and contraceptive use; and a control group that received health education unrelated to sex.

"Students in the abstinence program were one third less likely to initiate sexual activity when compared to students in the other three groups. By contrast, safe sex and comprehensive sex-ed classes had no effect on student behaviour; students in these classes did not reduce sexual activity nor increase contraceptive use when compared to the control group."

The study was conducted by Drs John and Loretta Jemmott of the University of Pennsylvania. "Prior to the current study, there had been 15 scientific evaluations of abstinence education, 11 of which had shown that abstinence programs were effective in reducing sexual activity," Rector noted. "However, the new Jemmott study is the first evaluation showing positive results which employed full random assignment. As a result, it cannot be dismissed on methodological grounds."

Meanwhile, Australia's Labor Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard says that federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott's advice to his daughters to delay sex before marriage has "confirmed the worst fears of Australian women about him".

Worst fears? She has even asserted that Australian women fear Tony Abbott's advice on abstinence more than they fear his views on global warming.

Cervical cancer

However, confirmation for Tony ("Lock Up Your Daughters") Abbott's old-fashioned values comes from a recent study which found that 56 per cent of young adults in a new sexual relationship were infected with the sexually-transmitted human papilloma virus (HPV), a virus which condoms cannot protect against and which is the leading cause of cervical cancer. Of those infected with HPV, nearly half (44 per cent) were infected with an HPV type that causes cancer.

The study, led by Professor Eduardo Franco, director of McGill University's Cancer Epidemiology Unit, in collaboration with a team of colleagues from McGill and Université de Montréal/Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal (CHUM), was published in the January 2010 issues of Epidemiology and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.

Babette Francis, B.Sc. (Hons) is national co-ordinator of Endeavour Forum Inc.

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