Liberal Media Use Flawed Study to Attack Abstinence-Only Education

Even though many studies conclude that abstinence-only sex education benefits students, the liberal media are using a newly-released multi-year study questioning abstinence-only education to attack funding for the federal abstinence education program.

Because the study, conducted by Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., found that four abstinence-only education programs did not have a significant effect on teen sexual behavior, liberal activists were quick to call all abstinence education a failure.  Never mind that the study data, as Newsbusters' Ken Shepherd notes here, neither vindicates nor indicts the abstinence-only approach to education.

The study followed more than 2,000 students in abstinence-only sex education curricula in late elementary and middle schools, and found that abstinence-only programs did not stop or delay the youngsters' sexual activity any more than other sex ed programs.

According to critics, the problem with the Mathematica study is two-fold. First the research design was flawed and second, the four programs reviewed are not representative of the 700 programs in use around the country.  In fact, North Carolina educator Donna Garner, who helped write the exemplary Scott & White Worth the Wait abstinence curriculum and was steeped in research on abstinence programs, said she never heard of the four programs Mathematica included in this study.  Abstinence curricula have developed significantly in the past decade. Further, none of the programs studied by Mathematica continued on through high school, when students have to deal with maturing hormones, increasing peer pressure to have sex, and an ever-intensifying deluge of pro-sex media messages delivered through television and movies.

In a telephone interview, Leslee Unruh, director of the National Abstinence Clearinghouse, told CMI that when she was on Capitol Hill last month to brief lawmakers about the many successful abstinence-only education programs, the press ignored the story. By contrast, the media have given enormous coverage to Rep. Henry Waxman's (D-Cal.) efforts to discredit and defund abstinence programs.

According to the Family Research Council, “A recent HHS-sponsored conference in Baltimore unveiled evidence from more than two dozen other studies that abstinence programs are producing positive outcomes for youth. For every study that disparages the abstinence approach, there are many others that point to its success and suggest that effective, long-term programs should be given more funding—not less.”

In spite of these qualifying facts, the media used the Mathematica study to thunder against abstinence programs, as shown by the following headlines.


The overriding tone in each of these stories was that federal education monies have been “wasted” by emphasizing abstinence until marriage.  Each of the articles above noted that the Title V block grant funding abstinence-only sex education, a part of President Bush's social agenda, expires at the end of June.  And each questioned the wisdom of continuing to fund the program given the liberal interpretation that the study “proved” the approach doesn't work. It has long been a goal of Planned Parenthood and its allies to defund abstinence programs, which emphasize reduction of sexual activity instead of promoting condoms to facilitate all forms of pre-marital sexual activity, including homosexuality.

Each of these news stories also quoted representatives of the far-left Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, which advocates comprehensive (that is abstinence and contraception) sex education.  SIECUS was launched by the Kinsey Institute and Planned Parenthood in 1964 in order to promote acceptance of all forms of sexuality, including “child sexuality” and homosexuality. USA Today also quoted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who asserted that “American taxpayers appear to have paid over one billion federal dollars for programs that have no impact.”  Waxman released an error-filled report attacking abstinence programs last year.

Supporters of abstinence-only education were quoted in each of the articles, but given far less space than critics.  AP did the best job of balancing sources.

Kristen Fyfe is senior writer at the Culture and Media Institute, a division of the Media Research Center.