Abstinence-only sexual education vs. comprehensive sexual education, with emphasis on the attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors of adolescents

Thumbnail Image
Issue Date
Phillips, Erika
Quigley, Timothy F.

In 2003, the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance survey reported that 46.7% of high school students had been sexually active.1 In 2000, 9.1 million of the 18.9 million new cases of STDs came from young people age 15-24.2 Due to these statistics, there is an ongoing debate concerning teenage sexual education in the United States and how to make a greater impact on the attitudes, knowledge, and behavior of adolescents.

Purpose: To determine whether Abstinence-Only or Comprehensive sexual education has more of an impact on the attitudes, knowledge and sexual behaviors of adolescents.

Methods: An evidence based literature review was completed using published studies involving Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive sexual education. These studies were then evaluated to determine which method has the greatest impact on the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors of adolescents.

Results: Of the eleven Comprehensive sexual education studies, eight were Evidence Level I and three were Evidence Level II-1. Ten Abstinence-Only programs were evaluated, four were Evidence Level I, three were Evidence Level II-1, two were Evidence Level II-2, and one was Evidence Level II-3. There was one Evidence Level I study that directly compared Abstinence-Only and Comprehensive sexual education. The bulk of the literature supports Comprehensive sexual education as having the greatest impact on adolescents’ attitudes, knowledge, and behaviors.

Conclusion: Based on a thorough review of the literature, Comprehensive sexual education was given a B recommendation (at least fair evidence that the intervention improves important health outcomes) and Abstinence-Only sexual education was given a C recommendation (no recommendation for or against this intervention because the balance of benefits and harms is too close to justify a stronger recommendation.)

Table of Content
A project presented to the Department of Physician Assistant of Wichita State University in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Physician Assistant.