Monday, December 10, 2007

Sexual Abstinence

Sexual Abstinence

Does abstinence plus interventions reduce sexual risk behavior among youth? While few could argue with abstinence as a personal choice, there are serious questions about whether government promotion of abstinence should be a public health goal. Sexual intercourse is almost universally initiated during adolescence worldwide. I believe that programs that teach people how to have safe sex is better than abstinence.
According to data reported in a recent study of adolescents risk behavior, in 2003, 33% of ninth graders reported that they had experienced sexual intercourse, while the proportion of sexually active adolescents in the older grades increased by grade level: 44% of tenth graders, 53% of eleventh graders and 62% of twelfth graders (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003).

Everyday we see commercials about sexual abstinence programs. The question we should ask ourselves is “Are these programs really working among our adolescents?” I believe that most of us will answer a big NO to this question. Society is spending big sums of money in these programs but sadly it doesn’t work. The society is the first responsible of this failure because of the television, music, and internet that have strong sexual content and encourage kids and adolescents to practice sex. So, how can we expect sexual abstinence among our adolescents if we are the ones encouraging them to experiment sex?

To teach about sexual abstinence it is important to familiarize the adolescents with these terms. The term abstinence is referred to voluntarily choosing not to engage in sexual activity until marriage. Sexual activity refers to any type of genital contact or sexual stimulation with another person, but not limited to, sexual intercourse. Many adolescents suggest that having oral or anal sex maintain their abstinence status. A magazine survey of 15-19 year olds reported that 40% of respondents felt that oral sex was not “sex” (Seventeen Magazine, 2000).
Research has prooved the effectiveness of sexual abstinence programs. By age 20, 77% of young people in the U.S. have initiated sex. In Puerto Rico 17,000 of 60,000 of births annually are from mothers younger than 20 years old (Health Department of Puerto Rico, 2002).
As of this date United State has spent $1.5 billion promoting abstinence programs while no federal program regularly funds comprehensive sexuality education. This is about as good an example of theologically driven misappropriation of public funding as one could hope to find. Funding abstinence programs with public taxpayer money is wasteful simply because these programs don’t work a fact now confirmed by a number of studies.

The result of a research presented below demonstrates how programs of sexual abstinence are functioning among our adolescents.
The Table 1 demonstrates the results of a study collected from undergraduate students enrolled in three large survey courses offered by the Department of Public and Community Health at a large Mid-Atlantic University. Two courses were sections of a Human Sexuality course while the other was a Personal and Community Health course (Sawyer, Howard, Brewster-Jordan, 2007)
In the study a total of 282 undergraduate students participated. They were 161 females and 121 males in the study.
The Table 1 demonstrates that even undergraduate student at this date doesn’t know the real definition of abstinence. The problem is that they define sexual abstinence as everything that is not intercourse.

Table 1
College Students’ Perceptions of Sexual Behaviors That Could Be Practiced While Considering Oneself Abstinent.
Sexual Behaviors
Females (N=161)
Males (N=121)
99.4% (160)
99.2% (120)
* Penis touching vagina
32.9% (53)
33.9% (41)
* Penis penetrating vagina
3.7% (6)
2.5% (3)
* Mouth touching vagina
55.3% (89)
59.5% (72)
* Penis touching mouth
54.7% (88)
60.3% (73)
* Penis penetrating mouth
49.1% (79)
52.9% (64)
Your hand caressing someone else’s genitals
80.1% (129)
81.0% (98)
Someone’s hand caressing your genitals
88.8% (143)
90.1% (109)
# Mouth touching breasts
85.7% (138)
Masturbating yourself to orgasm
88.2% (142)
90.1% (109)
Someone masturbating you to orgasm
69.6% (112)
76.0 (92)
* Format of responses placed females as the “receivers”and males as the “givers”
# Question only asked to females

A situation where abstinence until marriage education is established without first clearly defining what is meant by abstinence is both futile and unethical, and attention must be placed on examining and rectifying the obvious discrepancies in behavioral references of adolescent sexual practices (Sawyer et al, 2007).
With this situation in mind adolescents are in risk of obtaining an illness from other practices that doesn’t involve intercourse, such as oral sex, because they believe it is sexual abstinence.

Sexual abstinence can reasonably be urged, but its promotion must be left to private individuals and groups. The Government should stay out of it. It is more effective to promote safe sex and educate adolescents about sex rather than promote sexual abstinence because in these days sex promotions are becoming a strong influence among adolescents. Parents should speak with their kids about sexual abstinence and safe sex. In the end, is their choice to choose how to act but we made our job on educating them about abstinence and safe sex.


Borawski, E; Trapl, E. (2005). Effectiveness of Abstinence-Only Intervention Middle School Teens. American Journal of Health Behavior. Vol 29. Issue 5.
Dwarkin, S; Santelli, J. (2007). Do Abstinence-Plus Interventions Reduces Sexual Risks Behavior Among Youth?. Plus Medicine. Vol 4. Issue 9.
Sawyer, R; Howard, D; Brewster-Jordan. (2007). “We didn’t have sex did we?” College Students’ Perceptions of Abstinence. American Journal of Health Studies. Vol 22. Issue I.
Waters, H. (2007). Opinion: Abstinence-Only: Wrong in Principle and Principle. Columbia Daily Tribune.
Time to Grow. Economist. (2007). Vol 384. Issue 8547.

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