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New York, NY— Today, the Journal of Adolescent Health published an updated position paper from the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM), as well as a comprehensive literature review on abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and their negative impact on young people. The position paper and literature review detail significant problems with these programs, including the fact that they are ineffective and they violate a basic human right of young people to accurate health information, stigmatize or exclude many young people, and reinforce damaging gender stereotypes.

SAHM updated its position paper on AOUM programs based on a decade’s worth of research since its original 2006 paper, affirming that young people have a right to the information they need to protect their health and that sex education should be comprehensive, medically accurate, and culturally competent. In addition to the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine, sex education is supported by the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics and by a majority of Americans, including more than 90 percent of parents and both Republican and Democrat parents. However, the Trump administration has already made moves to discontinue evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs.

“Planned Parenthood is the largest provider of sex education in the country and believes strongly in the rights of young people to the education they need to protect their health,” said Leslie Kantor, PhD, MPH, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and an author on both the position paper and review. “Research confirms that abstinence-only-until-marriage programs withhold critical information from young people, leaving them at risk, while a comprehensive review of the literature shows that high-quality sex education can make a measurable difference in adolescents’ health and well-being.”

John Santelli, MD, MPH, lead author of both publications, said, “The science is clear.  Abstinence-only-until-marriage programs are not only ineffective in promoting healthy behaviors, they may also be harmful to many different groups of youth. As a nation, we must do better to ensure young people are safe and healthy.”

The research review found that AOUM programs (now sometimes referred to as Sexual Risk Avoidance programs):

  • are not effective in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse or changing other health behaviors associated with reducing unintended pregnancy and STDs, such as increasing the use of birth control among sexually active youth;

  • may have negative impact on several groups of young people including LGBTQ youth, sexually active youth, youth with a history of sexual abuse and parenting teens;

  • reinforce damaging gender stereotypes, including one curriculum teaching that girls care less about achievement and their futures than do boys;

  • censor lifesaving information about the prevention of pregnancy, HIV, and other STIs;

  • exclude accurate information about contraception; and

  • undermine public health goals in the U.S. and globally. Promotion of these policies by the U.S. government has harmed other public health efforts, including family planning programs and HIV prevention abroad.

High-quality sex education and access to family planning services have been critical to helping teens stay safe and healthy. Pregnancy rates among teens in the U.S. have reached a historic low, and more young people are delaying sexual activity and using birth control when they do have sex.

Planned Parenthood is proud to provide sex education and health services that help adolescents plan their futures and prevent both unintended pregnancies and STDs. As the nation’s largest provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood works in schools and communities across the country to provide outstanding sex education programs. Each year, Planned Parenthood provides education and outreach to 1.5 million people of all ages across the U.S. and to millions more online.

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Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading provider and advocate of high-quality, affordable health care for women, men, and young people, as well as the nation’s largest provider of sex education. With more than 600 health centers across the country, Planned Parenthood affiliates serve all patients with care and compassion, with respect and without judgment. Through health centers, programs in schools and communities, and online resources, Planned Parenthood is a trusted source of reliable health information that allows people to make informed health decisions. We do all this because we care passionately about helping people lead healthier lives.