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Study Finds that Abstinence-Only Programs Do Not Affect Rates of HIV Infection, Sexual Behavior

A new study published in the British Medical Journal early in August found that programs that encourage abstinence from sex as the only method of preventing HIV infection are not effective in achieving this goal.  The study, titled “Sexual Abstinence Only Programmes to Prevent HIV Infection in Income Countries: Systematic Review,” analyzed 13 trails which involved more than 14,000 students in the United States. Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs encourage sexual abstinence as the exclusive means of preventing HIV infection, without promoting safer sex behaviors, but their effectiveness has never been proven. Currently, there are no published studies in peer reviewed professional literature that show that abstinence-only programs benefit young people in the long term.1

The British Medical Journal study only included programs which aimed to prevent HIV infection, and utilized self reported results that were then compared to control groups that hadn’t been enrolled in abstinence-only programs. Most of the abstinence-only programs were based in schools and were directed at students in grades five through eight. Seven of the studies analyzed tracked sexually transmitted infections, finding no significant short or long term benefit to abstinence-only programs.  Also, none of the programs made any significant difference in preventing pregnancy, reducing unprotected sex, or delaying sexual debut.2

Currently, the total spending on the federal and state levels for these programs is approaching $1.5 billion with over a billion of this amount having been spent since 2001.3 As a result of their findings, the researchers concluded that the tax dollars now being used to fund abstinence-only programs could be better spent on sex education programs that include both the abstinence message along with discussion of condom use and other safe-sex practices.4


  1. Kristen Underhill, “Sexual Abstinence Only Programmes to Prevent HIV Infection in High Income Countries: Systematic Review,” British Medical Journal (August 2007), <>.
  2. Nicholas Bakalar, “Adolescence: Abstinence-Only Programs Not Found to Prevent H.I.V.”, New York Times, 14 August 2007, accessed 27 August 2007 <
  3. A Brief History of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs, (Washington, DC:SIECUS), accessed 31 June 2007,
  4. Underhill, “Sexual Abstinence Only Programmes.”

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