UGA study: Higher pregnancy and birth rates in states with abstinence-only sex ed programs in schools

Most of the research on abstinence-only sex education programs in schools has found the programs don’t work and can backfire.

Now, a new study out of UGA reaffirms that finding.

From UGA:

States that prescribe abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools have significantly higher teenage pregnancy and birth rates than states with more comprehensive sex education programs, researchers from the University of Georgia have determined.

The researchers looked at teen pregnancy and birth data from 48 U.S. states to evaluate the effectiveness of those states’ approaches to sex education, as prescribed by local laws and policies.

“Our analysis adds to the overwhelming evidence indicating that abstinence-only education does not reduce teen pregnancy rates,” said Kathrin Stanger-Hall, assistant professor of plant biology and biological sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

Hall is first author on the resulting paper, which has been published online in the journal PLoS ONE.

The study is the first large-scale evidence that the type of sex education provided in public schools has a significant effect on teen pregnancy rates, Hall said.

“This clearly shows that prescribed abstinence-only education in public schools does not lead to abstinent behavior,” said David Hall, second author and assistant professor of genetics in the Franklin College. “It may even contribute to the high teen pregnancy rates in the U.S. compared to other industrialized countries.”

Along with teen pregnancy rates and sex education methods, Hall and Stanger-Hall looked at the influence of socioeconomic status, education level, access to Medicaid waivers and ethnicity of each state’s teen population.

Even when accounting for these factors, which could potentially impact teen pregnancy rates, the significant relationship between sex education methods and teen pregnancy remained: the more strongly abstinence education is emphasized in state laws and policies, the higher the average teenage pregnancy and birth rates.

“Because correlation does not imply causation, our analysis cannot demonstrate that emphasizing abstinence causes increased teen pregnancy. However, if abstinence education reduced teen pregnancy as proponents claim, the correlation would be in the opposite direction,” said Stanger-Hall.

The paper indicates that states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates were those that prescribed comprehensive sex and/or HIV education, covering abstinence alongside proper contraception and condom use. States whose laws stressed the teaching of abstinence until marriage were significantly less successful in preventing teen pregnancies.

These results come at an important time for legislators. A new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative was signed into federal law in December 2009 and awarded $114 million for implementation. However, federal abstinence-only funding was renewed for 2010 and beyond by including $250 million of mandatory abstinence-only funding as part of an amendment to the Senate Finance Committee’s health-reform legislation.

With two types of federal funding programs available, legislators of individual states now have the opportunity to decide which type of sex education—and which funding option—to choose for their state and possibly reconsider their state’s sex education policies for public schools, while pursuing the ultimate goal of reducing teen pregnancy rates.

Stanger-Hall and Hall conducted this large-scale analysis to provide scientific evidence to inform this decision.  “Advocates for continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: If teens don’t learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it and from whom?” said Stanger-Hall.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

113 comments Add your comment

Mike C.

November 30th, 2011
5:30 am

You are missing the point.

It should be parents who decide whether or not to teach absitence or teach about sex and give condoms.

The government schools should have no role in educating my child about sex or not. If other parents don’t have the know how or make the effort, then have a program to educate the parents……

Forsyth County Mom

November 30th, 2011
5:53 am

Stanger-Hall and Hall conducted this large-scale analysis to provide scientific evidence to inform this decision. “Advocates for continued abstinence-only education need to ask themselves: If teens don’t learn about human reproduction, including safe sexual health practices to prevent unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to plan their reproductive adult life in school, then when should they learn it and from whom?” said Stanger-Hall.

How about they learn it from their parents? Oh yeah, wait…..we’re talking about Georgia here.
Actually, this year my daughter is in 6th grade in a Forsyth County Middle School, and I reviewed their unit on Sex Ed. When I saw that the only thing they taught about contraception was abstinence, I opted her out of that particular part of the unit. That is NOT AT ALL what I want my daughter to learn about “not getting pregnant” in this day and age, and I’ll teach her about it myself, thank-you-very-much. Since they were very young I have fostered a relationship with both my girls that they can come and talk to me about anything, and that “there is NOTHING they can do or tell me that would make me ever disown them or make them feel like they can’t talk to me.” Unlike their father’s family (who disowned him when they found out I was pregnant with out oldest daughter – even though we were already married! Just because he had 3 kids from his first marriage that his ex-wife screwed up so they didn’t even have a relationship with him until they were adults) I would NEVER do something like that to my children, no matter what. And I know that our open relationship has paid off, since our oldest daughter has actually talked with me about her personal life that I’m sure most kids wouldn’t approach their parents with. I am thankful that I have taken the time to build this relationship with both girls, and I’m not going to let the backwards State of Georgia screw it up for me!


November 30th, 2011
6:01 am

I attended a church several years ago that was becoming more and more conservative. Many newer members didn’t believe in Evolution. They swallowed the Bush abstinence only gospel hook, line and sinker. The result? The year I left, three unwed, high school girls got pregnant by men that “disappeared” upon hearing the news. There were only 130 members in this congregation! The scary thing is that there are more and more of these people. Mike C. the problem with your thinking is that many parents do not talk about sex with their kids. More importantly, mothers don’t teach their girls to value themselves as something more than sex objects. Fathers don’t teach their sons to respect a woman for anything beyond being a sperm receptacle.


November 30th, 2011
6:11 am

Let’s be honest: teenagers rebel. The more you push, the more they resist.

Hypothetically, if a child is only learning about abstinence-only education through his/her parents, church, and school, then of course they look at anything sexual they see on TV or “hear through their friends” as A: something cool, B: something they may want to try, or C: all of the above.

drew (former teacher)

November 30th, 2011
6:17 am

Mike C got it right. Of course schools should teach kids the “facts” involved in sexual reproduction and STD’s. But the “politics” of reproduction should be left to their parents…for better or worse.

And if the local community feels strongly about pushing a particular view, provide an optional after school program for interested students and parents.

Plus, it won’t be on the test, right? And test scores are all that really matter, right?


November 30th, 2011
6:24 am

Mike C did not get it right. Too many parents are either too squeamish or too ignorant to teach their children about sex. Sex education is a legitimate subject and should be taught in the public schools.

mountain man

November 30th, 2011
6:35 am

So a lot of parents would rather their children be given “abstinence-only” sex education and have them possibly become pregnant? Sort of like the vaccine opponents who are sure THEIR kid is not going to contract the disease.

If parents are allowed to run the education system, then we need to stop focusing on teenage pregnancy as a problem for the schools and put it back on the parents. If your daughter gets pregnant, you should be forced to handle the expenses. The daughter should be required to name the father and take a paternity test. The father (or his parents if he is under eighteen) should be forced to share the expenses of the pregnancy/birth and be required to contribute half of cost of raising the child until he/she is eighteen.

But wouldn’t it be a lot simpler just to give children the education they need to keep from getting pregnant. It is obvious they won’t get the education at home and parents are so naive about their children’s sexual activities.

mountain man

November 30th, 2011
6:47 am

Matter of fact, we should just give parents a blackball veto power over ANYTHING that is taught in school. If any one parent does not like a subject it should be thrown out. I don’t like the new math instruction, thow it out. I don’t agree with the way they portray slaves in history, throw it out. I don’t agree with evolution, throw the biology course out.

You get the picture.


November 30th, 2011
6:58 am

Many of you “let me teach my kids” don’t realize how EARLY kids are exposed to/interested in/begin having sex. We have seen this in 5th graders!

If you are raised on “abstenence only” and you “give in”, you figure what the heck–I have already failed at following it, I’ll just keep on having sex and hope I don’t have a baby. We know that teenagers (and pre-teens!) are frequently quite fertile. Can you say “grandma?”

Wouldn’t it be better to COMBINE your efforts with the schools’ to produce a child who is not having children?

Just 2 weeks ago I had a conference with a mother whose second child is failing. She is 25; had his older brother at 14. (she now has 4 by 2 different (absent) fathers) Quit going to school, started having sex at 13. Is this what you want? And don’t say it won’t happen to your child, because there are many grandparents who said the same thing.

Walk a mile in a teacher’s shoes, and get your eyes opened.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 30th, 2011
7:35 am

Who cares. Lets begin the diversion of school sex ed funds to build bigger prisons and welfare programs because that is where these children will going.

And Im very happy for them. Perhaps an abortion wouldve been a better idea.

Dr NO / Mr Sunshine

November 30th, 2011
7:36 am

Then again is schools in implement homosexual sex education then perhaps the unwed mother issue would disappear.


November 30th, 2011
7:40 am

This is a case where the practical solution is clearly not the same as the ideal solution. It would be ideal if parents actually provided proper sex education to their children to protect against STDs and pregnancy. I believe the majority of parents do not do this.

I also believe we should not punish a future generation of children, born to 15- and 16-year-olds, simply because some people are squeamish about schools discussing a normal human function. We need comprehensive sex education, but we should also allow parents to opt-out if they don’t want it for their own children. There is probably no better investment in reducing future poverty and crime.


November 30th, 2011
7:47 am

It’s amazing what information children gather in school. Our 2nd grader came home last month and proudly explained to me that he knew where babies came from. With a very serious look he stated, “They come out your butt.” I accept this as fact from a seven year old but wonder who kicked “THE STORK” under the bus?


November 30th, 2011
8:00 am

I would never, ever, ever ask my 16-year-old daughter to pay the price of teen pregnancy (or the child she would bear) so I could proudly crow about how I taught my child to abstain from sex. Do I discuss with her all the time that it’s just not worth it? Of course! Would I refuse if she asked for birth control? Nope, she would get a long lecture along with the birth control! Craziness! Teenagers are not equipped to be parents!

Pencil Pusher

November 30th, 2011
8:07 am

GIving your teenager birth control is condoning the behavior. If she really, really wants to play Russian Roulette, will you give her a helmet?


November 30th, 2011
8:14 am

@Pencil Pusher,

… and insuring your teenager’s car is condoning them having a vehicle collision?


November 30th, 2011
8:32 am


Is this really shocking? I mean, really.

I am not talking about schools vs. parents educating kids on sex. That is not the issue for me.

The issue is that the kids aren’t getting the education at all. If they don’t know what is going on with their own bodies and what DOES make a baby – it is really shocking that they make babies? Really?

If parents don’t want schools to educate the kids regarding sex, then they need to do it themselves! However, the statistics clearly shows that the parents are dropping the ball and the kids are suffering. I hope that these now “grandparents” are ready to help raise their grandchildren – financially and otherwise!!!


November 30th, 2011
8:34 am

If parents don’t want schools to educate kids regarding sex, and if parents don’t educate their own kids about sex, I wonder….

Will the conservatives be angry when/if the GOVERNMENT has to pay for these new babies?

Just askin’.

mystery poster

November 30th, 2011
8:43 am

No surprises here. Just ask Brisol Palin how that whole abstinence only thing worked out for her.

On a related note, A few years ago, TIME magazine reported that girls who take “abstinence only” pledges have a much higher STD rate than students who do not. This is NOT only about pregnancy, it’s a health issue.


November 30th, 2011
8:46 am

@Mike C., I’m a Libertarian and I don’t agree with you. It’s a government school trying to prevent unwanted children that the government is going to have to support. I think it is their best interests to find the most-effective way to reduce teen births and follow that.

If you want control over curriculum, shop around. I’m sure there is a private school that meets your needs.


November 30th, 2011
8:48 am

I think all the thumper moonbats who want to teach abstinence-only, who want to ban abortion AND all artificial contraception, should be REQUIRED to adopt all the kids who result from unintented pregnancies.


November 30th, 2011
8:49 am



November 30th, 2011
8:56 am

It’s clear some teenagers are going to have sex regardless of what sort of sex-education they get. So, it makes sense to cover abstinence along with proper contraception and condom use. It’s also clear that all the scientific evidence and logic in the world will have zero effect on the crazed far-right Christian mind.


November 30th, 2011
8:56 am

Interesting discussion.

The comments so far are:
1 No one wants teenage pregnancies.
2 Most do not want pregnancy prevention taught in schools.
3 If not taught in schools, it is not taught at all.

Reality at 8:34 pretty well sums up the problem. The government can pay for the babies or they can be thrown into trash dumpsters as often happens. Where are the right to lifers?

The middle ground would seem to be a comprehensive education program in schools.

Put a Plug in the Jug

November 30th, 2011
8:58 am

Hello All,

I used to teach sex ed to fifth grade boys at the elementary school in which I was employed. The curriculum was geared toward teaching the anatomy and physiology of the sexual reproductive organs of both males and females, as well as, the process of reproduction. However, at the end of each session the boys were allowed to opportunity to submit questions, anonymously, which I would them answer for the class. The majority of these questions dealt with having sex on a moral level. Questions like “when can I have sex?” “Is being gay wrong.” Along with a treasure trove of other colorful inquiries which I’m not at liberty to discuss.

The point is, these questions are better answered by a responsible parent. But, as we have seen, many parents are anything but responsible or capable of answering these questions so that the child can understand. Who is left to guide these children? The teachers of course. If you don’t like sex ed in schools you have the option of taking your child out of that part of the curriculum OR you could be proactive and teach your child about responsible sexual decisions from an early age.

Some situations, like to school that I taught in where most “mamas” were squirting out more children like it was their job, are a lost cause. That mentality is most often passed down through the generations like an unwanted STD.

That is all for now



November 30th, 2011
8:58 am

From a story out of Sacramento County, CA:

“. . . many young people are dangerously misinformed about STDs, Hill and others said.

The most common misconception among teen boys and young men at the Effort Oak Park Community Health Center – laughable if it weren’t so harmful – is that condoms are too small to fit them, said licensed midwife Tanya Khemet, who does STD testing for adolescents there. Others think they can tell if a sexual partner has an infection by looking at the person’s genitals or simply based on his or her reputation.”

Read more:


November 30th, 2011
8:58 am

“Safe sex” isn’t working either. Clumsy, rushed 15 year olds don’t know how to use a condom. Birth control doesn’t prevent STD’s. So where does that leave us?

I honestly wish I had the answer…


November 30th, 2011
9:00 am

Many here are not fortunate ehough to have a biology teacher as a parent as I did; sex education, back in the day, was taught in CONJUNCTION with biology courses so that students got the comprehensive understanding as to what goes on with their bodies.

The problem occurs when the parent(s) doesn’t/don’t have a dialog with their children in CONJUNCTION with the schools!! In many cases, sex ed in schools is the ONLY way children learn about sex….save the streets and/or video influences. As we’ve seen, abstinence-based curriculums don’t work, for that does nothing but instill FEAR into children. Comprehensive sex-ed needs to include abstinence, contraception, biology, ethics, and economics so that the FULL picture is given….and the stigma needs to be removed!!!

TSA on the way to second base

November 30th, 2011
9:01 am

this is so funny my side hurts…

Sex is just so dirty, much like breast feeding, it just seems so un-natural

maybe parents dont know the answers? perhaps it might do some good to conduct some from of class for parents to become better informed; then they can share with their children


November 30th, 2011
9:01 am

Cut off the government assistance to these baby factories.Just because someone gets pregnant should not mean that they will receive government assistance. We should stop paying people to have babies.


November 30th, 2011
9:07 am

OK roughrider. Stick to your guns on that one. While you’re at it demand a unicorn.


November 30th, 2011
9:09 am

@roughrider – I agree! Let the babies starve to death. Let them get sick and die. We just don’t want to help them at all, after all, it is their fault for being born.

They have a “right to life” but that right ends just after birth. Right?

Sean Smith

November 30th, 2011
9:10 am

Here we have a study that shows that parents in abstinent only education states are NOT stepping up and educating their children and we have more teen pregnancy. The reason why society has a vested interest in preventing teen pregnancy is because I don’t want to have to pay for your child’s child in the form of increased taxes to pay for food stamps, welfare, health care and all the other social programs your daughter is going to mooch off of because instead of growing up, going to college and being a productive member of scoiety she is going to be home living off of government support.

Parents and churches are FAILING our young people in not educating them about sex so the bad ol government schools have to do the job.


November 30th, 2011
9:14 am

Just say no doesn’t work. Teaching them why to say no and how to avoid peer pressure when they don’t feel they are ready might work better, but come on. Around here the politically coorect way is to throw tax $$$ into a failed abstinence only program because that’s what the conservatives weant.


November 30th, 2011
9:19 am

“Parents” are failing children? No, no, no! Doesn’t everyone know that it is ALWAYS the “teachers” fault?


November 30th, 2011
9:22 am



November 30th, 2011
9:24 am

I agree that the parents need classess on how and what to teach their kids regarding sex. The problem is that the problem parents, the ones who really need it, already have their minds made up that they will demand NO sex until after marriage, no birth control, and no abortion. Good luck with that one.

JF McNamara

November 30th, 2011
9:24 am

“It should be parents who decide whether or not to teach absitence or teach about sex and give condoms.”

There are a lot of parents either in denial, too afraid to discuss it, or who don’t care about their kids enough to talk about it. Sad, but true, and that’s why you teach the safe method in schools.


November 30th, 2011
9:31 am

Maureen, are we talking about birthrate or pregnancy? It seems that if we are really talking about pregnancy the statistics are flawed. Do all teens report pregnancies? Are abortion clinics required to divulge information about teen pregnancy?
Assuming that in states where teen pregnancy rates were higher, those states were also more politically conservative, is it reasonable to think that there were more reported pregnancies, in part due to fewer abortions? (Seriously)


November 30th, 2011
9:34 am

Mike C. I get your point but not every parent (class or not) gives a damn. And sadly, that IS the TRUTH. Schools should give out condoms. Parents who don’t want their children to receive condoms from the school should maybe sign a form but there ARE CHILDREN having sex and they will not NOT have sex just because abstinence is taught. We’d like to think so but we DON’T live in that world. And then there are the fearful parents or the ones who say ‘I’ll talk about it’ but they never get around to it. Not all parents are in touch with reality just as you sir are not in touch with the world around you. I too am very amazed at the stories I hear from my family/friends who are teachers.


November 30th, 2011
9:35 am

I think kids know how to have safe sex, they just don’t bother with taking the time to put it into practice. I know a lady who was a teen parent by the time she was 16. She ended up having 2 more children after wedlock. Her own teen daughter, who very well knew of the difficulties of growing up without a father and seeing how her mother struggled to support her and her siblings, seemed to be on the right track. She and her mother had a close relationship and of course her mother used her own story as an example of what her daughter shouldn’t father. Low and behold, in the daughter’s senior year, she gets pregnant. Now this is a girl who is very smart, graduated with a 4.0 GPA and got accepted into one of the top colleges in the country but was too lazy to practice safe sex.


November 30th, 2011
9:44 am

The presumption that parents should have the sole responsibility for teaching about sex ed also assumes that they KNOW everything there is teach about sex ed. Just because you are an adult doesn’t mean that you have all the facts about how to safeguard your health/prevent pregnancy. It amazes me to hear about the discussions my single adult friends have with their partners regarding condom usage, and the general ignorance from educated people in their 30’s!

Being an adult also doesn’t mean that you care about keeping your child from getting pregnant – there are plenty of parents who did exactly the same thing when they were teens and don’t see a problem with their offspring doing the same.

Apparently, if the teen pregnancy stats are any indication, teens are not getting the information about how to protect their health/prevent pregnancy at home. And since I don’t really want to pay the long term expenses that go along with teen pregnancy (see below), let’s teach them about where babies come from and how not to make one.

“U.S. taxpayers forked over at least $9.1 billion in 2004 for costs associated with teens having children, according to a report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies. The report, which the authors say is a conservative estimate, compiled research estimating the cost of health care, housing assistance, food stamps, child welfare services, provided for teens and their children, and the lost revenue due to lower taxes paid by teen mothers.”

John K

November 30th, 2011
9:45 am

Again, this is what you get when religion tries to shove its agenda into everything.

My beer is colder

November 30th, 2011
9:46 am

@ Mike C

The reason the parents do not teach their kids about sex education is they were never taught themselves. They have the same, obtuse perspective that has held our society back for centuries. If we rely on these hillbillies to do what they think is right, then our future is doomed.


November 30th, 2011
9:46 am

It’s convenient to say “its the parent’s job” to teach about sex ed and it’s fine and proper for the state to promote “abstinence” (even though all the evidence shows it doesn’t work) — problem is: society is, really, paying the real price of the consequence of the condom free, unsafe sex that is, in reality, occurring because once the pregnancy occurs and isn’t terminated (another forbidden topic) and the child is actually born, then the child that is born becomes entitled to an education and food and other “benefits” from the state and so they cycle goes so the best and easiest way to try and stop this cycle altogether (besides mandating termination, that other forbidden topic should an unwed teen or pre-teen get pregnant without a husband and a job) is to teach about birth control….. this really isn’t rocket science. I may direct your attention to an early post I put up about earlier (centuries earlier — or maybe your great grandparents?) and other parts of the world who actually marry off their teens? The harmones are present…. they can be hard to control — perhaps you remember?


November 30th, 2011
9:47 am

“(W)hen should they learn it and from whom?” I’m finding that my 14-year-old son has learned pretty well from me reading some books on the subject to him. A couple more things he’s learned: 1. When he sees a girl, he should look at her face, not a few inches below it (believe it or not, he takes this very seriously). 2. His pants, when worn (and he’s good at that too), will protect him from HPV even better than the Gardisil his doctor mentioned recently. This arrangement works well for him, since he doesn’t like shots. Did I mention his awareness that his pants will also protect him from HIV and many other diseases?


November 30th, 2011
9:56 am

Teaching abstinence is a joke. There should be free birth control pills in high schools and grammar schools. Promiscuous sexual behavior among students is the ultimate cause for the problems in the Fulton and DeKalb school systems. The problems caused by babies born into poverty cannot be corrected by admistrative fiat.


November 30th, 2011
10:20 am

Did I mention his awareness that his pants will also protect him from HIV and many other diseases

Your son will probably take his pants off at some point. Just a thought. All you’re teaching him is that “good” girls will automatically not have HPV or any other diseases. Massive FAIL, sweetie.

HPV and all those other STD’s should add you to their Christmas card list, you’re quite the supporter. Frankly, your magical thinking approach doesn’t cut it, and is the #1 reason we should have sex ed in school.

Joe Joe

November 30th, 2011
10:22 am

We should teach boys how to be men and girls how to be ladies. Abstinence is the answer. Unfortunately Dads have been abdicating their role as father to the school or coach in pursuit of job, friends and fantasy football and mothers have been so feminized that all they care about is putting on the show of independent woman that the children are left to learn from their friends and the screwed up culture they live in. No wonder kids are getting pregnant. Over 50% of marriages end in divorce and mom and dad are hooking up with new people every few months. Kids learn from their parents behavior. Parents today are ruining this generation.

DJ Sniper

November 30th, 2011
10:24 am

I really look forward to the day that this country finally steps into the 21st century when it comes to sex. People need to realize that teaching children about sex is NOT the same thing as giving them a license to go out and do it. A lot of parents are adamantly opposed to sex ed in schools, yet these same parents either don’t teach their kids about sex at all, or they go the abstinence only route, along with a bunch of old wives tales, half truths, and misconceptions.

I have a 2 year old daughter, and as she gets older, she will know the good, the bad, and the ugly when it comes to sex.