While few Americans remain abstinent until marriage and most initiate sexual intercourse as adolescents, abstinence from sexual intercourse is an important behavioral strategy for preventing human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and unintended pregnancy among adolescents, according to the report, Abstinence and Abstinence-Only Education: A Review of U.S. Policies and Programs. The paper also notes that while there is broad support for abstinence as a necessary and appropriate part of sex education, controversy arises when abstinence is the sole choice for teenagers. John Santelli, MD, MPH, professor and chair, Heilbrunn Department of Clinical Population and Family Health, Mailman School of Public Health, and p rofessor of Clinical Pediatrics, Columbia University is the lead author of the report, published in the January issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The paper supports abstinence from sexual intercourse as “a healthy choice for teenagers” but critiques government policies and programs that promote abstinence-only or abstinence until marriage as the only prevention message for teenagers. According to the report, abstinence as the sole option for adolescents is scientifically and ethically problematic and should be abandoned as a basis for health policy and programs.
“Abstinence is a very healthy choice for teenagers - but sex education for teenagers needs to give teenagers all the facts – all the medically accurate information they need to protect themselves, ” said Dr. Santelli. “While abstinence from sexual intercourse is theoretically fully protective from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, in actual practice, abstinence often is not maintained which leaves teenagers vulnerable to pregnancy and STIs.” Recent data indicate the median age at first intercourse for women is 17.4 years, while the median age at first marriage is 25.3 years.
Stephanie Berger | EurekAlert!
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