No effect

This is what a waste of money looks like:


That graph is Figure 1 in the final report, "Impacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs (.pdf)." Mathematica Policy Research summarizes their findings:

Findings indicate that youth in the program group were no more likely than control group youth to have abstained from sex and, among those who reported having had sex, they had similar numbers of sexual partners and had initiated sex at the same mean age.

According to this study, kids who went through the program were no more or less likely to do anything. Put another way, it would be impossible to tell, based on behavior, whether a student had been through this program or not.

The program seems to have had no effect. Zero. The kids might as well have been in study hall. The good news, such as it is, is that it doesn't seem to have had any of the feared negative effects, either:

Contrary to concerns raised by some critics of the Title V, Section 510 abstinence funding, however, program group youth were no more likely to have engaged in unprotected sex than control group youth.

See Figure 2:


That's interesting. These kids didn't learn about safe sex in schools, but fortunately they learned about it somewhere — from parents, peers, MTV or myspace. Considering the dismal ineffectiveness of the Title V, Section 510 programs, I think it might be worthwhile trying to figure out where it was that these kids learned what they weren't being taught in school. If you're looking for effective programs to emulate, that might be a good place to start.

Look at those graphs above and imagine you're an executive with Coke or Pepsi or some other peddler of fizzy sugar water. Imagine that over the past 10 years you'd spent roughly $1 billion on an advertising campaign only to receive a report like this one, showing your ads have had precisely no effect on their intended audience. You would, of course, stop wasting your time and money on this expensive and useless project and find some other strategy. You'd be a fool if you didn't.

This is why critics of abstinence programs think this report is the last nail in the coffin of this approach:

“This report should serve as the final verdict on the failure of the abstinence-only industry in this country,” said William Smith, vice president for public policy of the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. … “It shows, once again, that these programs fail miserably in actually helping young people behave more responsibly when it comes to their sexuality.”

Well, yes, it should serve as the final verdict, but it won't. Abstinence proponents aren't operating on the same rational basis as our hypothetical soda company. And, unlike a corporation investing in advertising, they're not spending their own money, so they're not terribly concerned if it's wasted.

The folks at Mathematica Policy Research are in the unenviable position of having been commissioned to conduct and report on scientific research for an audience that does not believe in scientific research. Their data and findings will be subjected to the same subjective dismissal as the data and findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

This study may be conclusive, but its conclusions won't be accepted.

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  • Bugmaster

    Actually, under YHVH-ean law, a Jewish man is not only permitted, but required to visit a prostitute during the days when his wives are all “unclean”, because the alternative is to waste his seed, which YHVH doesn’t condone for any reason. YHVH is very pro-life in that regard. AFAIK prostitutes have their own union in Israel (or at least they used to at some point); they pay taxes and everything.

  • the opoponax

    um, isn’t abstaining also an option? or is that considered a waste of seed, too? is there a legal requirement that observant jewish men have x number of orgasms inside a woman per week so as not to “waste their seed”? because seriously, that’s pretty sweet. now i understand why they have that prayer where they thank god they weren’t born a woman. because i don’t think there is ANY religion that requires women to have a certain number of orgasms per month lest we waste our eggs.

  • Bugmaster

    I actually don’t remember whether abstaining is permitted or not (my gut feeling tells me that it is), but it’s certainly not encouraged. But I don’t know for sure, it’s been a while since my Tanakh class.

  • the opoponax

    so, what? observant men have to have sex every day? once a week? surely there must be a policy on this.
    though i must say, i’ve been in a brothel (for neither employment nor entertainment purposes), and there were A LOT of hasidic men going through.

  • Hagsrus

    Interesting column in the Guardian on the “benefits” issue.

  • Bugmaster

    so, what? observant men have to have sex every day? once a week? surely there must be a policy on this.I’m not able to look it up right now, but the basic idea is that a). women are mostly property, with few exceptions like Ruth, and b). your primary goal in life, besides bowing down before the Lord Thy God, is to be fruitful and multiply. If you’re not multiplying, then you’re doing something wrong. When you do something wrong, Mr. YHVH gets upset. And when Mr. YHVH gets upset, PEOPLE DIE. And we don’t want that to happen, do we ?

  • Michèle

    the opoponax wrote:
    > i don’t think there is ANY religion that requires women to have a certain number of orgasms per month lest we waste our eggs
    Well, then it’s high time we started one, don’t you think?!?

  • The Cynic Sage
  • Bugmaster

    Well, I’ve got to admit, that shirt looks pretty “edgy”. “We support abstinence programs ! Because they have no effect ! In your face, fornicators !” heh heh heh.

  • The Cynic Sage

    I actually submitted those.

  • hapax

    Cynic Sage, if you have some of those with the graph printed up, I’ll buy them. (I’d vote for a clearer title for the graph, and shrink the url, but I’ll leave the details to someone with a better design sense.)
    One for each member of the school board, I think…

  • Bugmaster

    Yeah, that’d be neat. I agree with hapax, though, the current URL is too big. How about shrinking the URL, and adding a tagline instead — short enough so it doesn’t get line-wrapped ? Maybe something like, “Abstinence education: Doing nothing since 1952 !”

  • 85% Duane

    How about “You’re Fucked With Abstinence Education” ?

  • Salamanda

    Duane, I’d be tempted to wear that one to church.

  • Bugmaster

    Hahaha I’d totally buy that and wear it. The Cynic Sage, wanna hop on Zazzle and create the shirt ? Or does the abstinence lobby own your rights now ?

  • The Cynic Sage

    I submitted those ones as a gag, so they own them now. It would be weird if one of those actually won though.

  • X

    Hey, the variants are endless:
    “Abstinance Ed. Who gives a fuck.”
    “Abstinance Ed. Better in the sack than he sounds.”
    “I don’t know how to have sex (it wasn’t covered in abstinance Ed)”
    “Abstinance Ed wisdom: a wedding ring is the only device that can physically block STD’s
    (no dangerous erections if you can get one around your cock)”

  • X

    On fifth thoughts, I need some sleep and/or a drink.

  • Raka

    Abstinence Education: It’s all about doing nothing.
    Abstinence Education: If God didn’t hate girls, he would’ve given them penises.

  • X

    “Abstinence education: It takes a long time to learn nothing.”

  • Bugmaster

    “Abstinence Education: Harmless at best”

  • ako

    Abstinence Education: Almost Certainly Doesn’t Cause STDs!

  • Agressive Driving Survey

    Press release: Survey finds association between presence of gun in ve

  • none

    Hello, Your site is great. Regards, Valintino Guxxi

  • Mark

    Hmmm. I find those figures a little difficult to believe. Even if you divide a number of people into two groups entirely arbitrarily, and don’t do anything different with either of them, there will still be some differences between them as a result of purely normal random fluctuations. That’s why, in any such study, it’s important to know the point at which any difference becomes statistically significant. This particular study would have been more convincing if it had shown small, but statistically insignificant, variations betwen the program group and the control group. But a set of results which show identical values on every reported measurement seems too perfect to be true – it suggests to me that there has been a failure somewhere in either the collection or analysis of the figures.

  • ro987ck


  • smrnda

    The only way to make teenage pregnancy *work* would be to degrade our society backwards into the Dark Ages, because teenage pregnancy was compatible with that level of society. A high school diploma alone isn’t a ticket to anything but minimum wage, and likely not even full time at that. The only way to be a useful worker in the world today is to acquire lots of skills and knowledge that we haven’t been able to pack in by age 18. A teenager with a strong back and basic literacy skills might have been a hot prospect for employers a hundred or more years ago, but that’s no longer adequate.I think we *could* do better. I myself was qualified to write software at 14 or so, but that was owing to a lot of privilege and luck on my part.

    I think we need to make sure teenage moms get the support they need to finish school, but there’s no way we can change the fact that having a kid while a teenager is going to drastically reduce your options later on.

    Also, most of the questions you’ve asked have been answered by the studies, particularly the ones done by Mathematica. These people are professionals at statistical analysis, they know what they are doing.

  • Sex is dirty and evil and god hates it. that’s why the catholic church doesn’t engage in any sexual acts.