The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has now released the
full results of a government study that will give behavioral scientists
insight into how parental attitudes and social norms are key to
promoting abstinence before marriage, rather than sex ed programs.
Recently the HHS had been criticized for its delayed release of the
full results of the study, as only an executive summary of the study’s
final conclusions were available.
Lisa Rue, Ph.D., a specialist in adolescent behavior, had complained
that without the full data of the study, experts such as herself had
less material to help teach adolescents to abstain from sexual
activity, which would in turn reduce the epidemic spread of venereal
disease and the incidence of teenage pregnancy.
"We have to know cultural norms and values before we ever do any kind
of research, or develop initiatives," Rue said in a newspaper
editorial. "If you ignore that, you're ignoring a premise, a key
premise in evaluation science and research."
The 196-page report entitled “National
Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents: Attitudes and Opinions About
Sex and Abstinence
” was funded by the HHS’s Administration for
Children and Families (ACF) and conducted by researchers with the
Cambridge, Mass.-based Abt Associates. The survey examined 1,000
adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 and their “most knowledgeable
parent,” and examined the impact of parent attitudes, parent
communication with adolescents, and peer attitudes on adolescents’
choosing to have pre-marital sex or to abstain.
The report had several findings that appeared to controvert
conventional wisdom on teen attitudes and sex education. For example,
the report found that “adolescents and parents generally oppose
pre-marital sex,” adding that adolescents have slightly more permissive
views than their parents.
The report found that approximately 70 percent of parents were morally
opposed to their teens having premarital sex, while just over 60
percent of teens agreed that only married persons should have sex.
The report also indicated that parental and social attitudes toward sex
and abstinence were far more influential than classroom education, even
when abstinence-based. Conservative attitudes of parents and peers
toward sexual intercourse, reported the researchers, were broadly
associated with an adolescent’s choice to abstain from sexual
While sex education, including abstinence-based, increased levels of
communication about sex between adolescents and their parents, the
study found that such communication made no measurable difference on
adolescent’s sexual attitudes. Such communication between teens and
their peers were broadly associated with “less conservative adolescent
Minority, religious, and low-income households exhibited more
conservative views in general about sex and abstinence, according to
the report. While black adolescents were more liberal than their
parents on sex, Hispanic teens tended to agree with their conservative
parents, as did those who attended religious services frequently.
here to read the full study
Contact: Peter J. Smith