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Why Directive Abstinence Education Will Always Be Needed


Why Directive Abstinence Education Will Always Be Needed

By Richard Urban, Executive Director, ULTRA Teen Choice

Recently, directive abstinence programs have been under attack by organizations such as Advocates for Youth and the Kaiser Family Foundation.  Those opponents claim, based on one analysis of four middle school interventions, that they do not work, and that it is a waste of money to fund programs that promote abstinence until marriage.

Advocates for youth purchased full page ads in newspapers urging:  “Tell Congress:  End funding for failed  abstinence-only programs.”  Advocates for Youth states:

“We know the facts. Abstinence-only programs:

* Censor life-saving information about condoms and contraception

* Replace science with scare tactics

* Use scientifically incorrect information

* Do not actually stop teens from having sex

This report is a huge milestone in the battle to provide America's youth with accurate, effective sex education.”

The thinking behind this cry for removal of funding for directive abstinence programs is clearly ideologically based.  And the ideology that drives it is the supposition that teens are going to have sex, and that it is fine to have sex as long as you are “responsible”, and use condoms.

First of all, there will always be a need for directive abstinence programs.  The majority of school age teens in Washington, DC, through High school, have never had sex.  And the large majority of Middle School teens have never had sex.  There will always be a need to encourage the right choices that teens have made, and to encourage more youth to make those right choices.  When this is done, positive health indicators, including having less teen pregnancies, less sexually transmitted diseases, less depression and emotional trauma will increase.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System reported a 16 percent drop in high school teens reporting ever having sexual intercourse between 2003 and 2005.  This, obviously, was not because youth received more lessons in how to correctly use a condom.

Yet, frequently, when I mention this to proponents of encouraging condom use (versus clearly stating abstinence as the preferred standard), they often dismiss this as an inaccurate statistic.  Yet, proponents of abstinence education frequently attack directive abstinence programs as “medically inaccurate”.  I have found just the opposite to be true.


On April 27th 2007, a health fair was held at Eastern Senior High school, sponsored by the Eastern Health academy and assisted by George Washington University students.  Incidentally, our organization, which operates a program at the school, was not invited to set up a display, although the program director told me we would be invited next time (we’ll see).


I stopped to observe at the table where there was a plastic penis for demonstrating condom use.  After watching the demonstration, I pointed out to the George Washington University Graduate student at the table that they should have a chart clearly showing just how effective condoms are at preventing various sexually transmitted diseases.  The graduate student insisted that condoms were “90 percent effective for everything”!  After I left, I read the literature on the table that I had picked up, and one pamphlet explained the rate of effectiveness for various sexually transmitted diseases.  However, there was no visible display, and the grad student staffing the table gave incorrect information.  So much for medical accuracy.

When I ask youth in the ULTRA Teen Choice Service Club what they think about the people who say that no funds should be given to those who promote abstinence, they clearly say that, of course funds would be given for that, since they are staying abstinent and that is the best choice, and the only 100 per cent sure way to avoid pregnancy, disease, and heartbreak.

It is also important to note the definition of “abstinence” given by many sexual education programs is far different than the one used by groups that directively promote abstinence. 

ULTRA Teen Choice encourages “abstinence from all areas of physical or sexual activity which I know in my heart are against my own conscience and well being’.  A pamphlet that I just picked up at the Eastern Health Fair and titled “Abstinence Facts”, and produced by ETR Associates, defines abstinence as follows:  “What is Abstinence?  Abstinence may mean:  kissing and hugging only, some sexual touching, everything but sexual intercourse.  Your reasons for waiting will affect what abstinence means to you.  To protect yourself against most STDs, including HIV, make sure no body fluids are exchanged.  Some STDs can be passed during skin-to-skin genital contact.”

If that is not what you had in mind when you instructed your children to be abstinent, you should take a more close look at what the programs that your child is exposed to in school are teaching.  At ULTRA Teen Choice, we fully support and encourage parents to participate in all aspects of the program, and parents know exactly what the message conveyed in the program is:  waiting to have sex until marriage is the desired standard for school age children, and is the only 100 % effective way to prevent physical, social, emotional and intellectual consequences of sexual activity outside of marriage.

A recent Zogby poll ( showed that parents support directive abstinence education two to one over so called “comprehensive” sex education when they know what is actually taught in each kind of program.

If anything, the recent Mathematica survey shows that children need continuing support in their commitment to stay abstinent.  Ultra Teen Choice incorporates college students who are committed to abstinence before marriage as mentors for younger students, as well as peer counselors from the same schools where the program operates.  After participating in the program, many youth report that they “Learned to stay abstinent”.  Will this commitment require continuing education, nurturing, and support.  Of course.  Should we continue to fund programs that help youth to stay abstinent?  Of course.  We expect youth to remain drug, alcohol, and tobacco free.  Cigarette filters, legalized marijuana, and  limited drinking under the age of 21 are not encouraged as appropriate risk reduction strategies.  Is promoting condom use, while hiding the safety risks any more appropriate a risk reduction strategy than those just mentioned?  It will always be an appropriate use of funds to encourage and promote abstinence among youth.  Why would we not encourage youth who are sexually abstinent to stay abstinent, and work to increase the encouraging trend here in Washington, DC, and nationwide of more youth abstaining from sex?

The website for ULTRA Teen Choice is  You can reach Richard at   

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