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Despite what some media outlets report, there is a growing body of research that confirms that sexual risk avoidance (SRA) education decreases sexual initiation, increases abstinent behavior among sexually experienced teens, and/or decreases the number of partners among sexually experienced teens.1 And, if individuals do initiate sex after being in a sexual risk avoidance program, they are no less likely to use condoms than anyone else.2

Researchers acknowledge that it takes about a decade before a new program or strategy begins having positive published research. SRA education has received widespread federal funding for little more than a decade, but there is already promising research to show what educators intuitively know – it works!

1 National Abstinence Education Association. (2010, February).Abstinence Works. A compilation of independent, peer reviewed abstinence-centered research that details numerous studies showing positive behavioral impact among students who participate in abstinence education classes.
2 Ibid. Trenholm, Christopher, et al. (2007, April). Impacts of Four Title V, Section 5 70 Abstinence Education Programs. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research, Inc.


SRA is decidedly more inclusive than “just say no.” The term, “abstinence only” has been strategically attached to this type of education by opponents to create the false perception that SRA education is a narrow and unrealistic approach. In reality, SRA is overwhelmingly more comprehensive and holistic than other approaches and focuses on the real-life struggles that teens face as they navigate through the difficult adolescent years.

SRA education realizes that having sex can potentially affect not only the sex organs of teens, but also, as research shows, can have emotional, psychological, social, economic and educational consequences. That’s why topics frequently discussed in an SRA class include: how to identify a healthy relationship, how to avoid or get out of a dangerous, unhealthy or abusive relationship, developing skills to make good decisions, setting goals for the future and taking realistic steps to reach them, understanding and avoiding STDs, information about contraceptives and their effectiveness against pregnancy and STDs, practical ways to avoid inappropriate sexual advances and why waiting until marriage to engage in sexual activity is optimal.

So, within an SRA program, teens receive all the information they need in order to make healthy choices. That’s a lot of information and skills packed into a curriculum!

SRA classes explain the various contraceptive choices and how they can reduce the risk of acquiring STDs or getting pregnant. This discussion, however, always stresses the best health choice of avoiding sexual activity as the only 100% way to prevent all risk. Many comprehensive sex education curricula mislead students by providing humanly impossible “perfect use” protection rates for condoms, which give students a false sense of security. By contrast, SRA programs give students the “typical use” protection rates that a condom offers, as reported by the CDC.

A recent national poll of parents demonstrated that 90% want their children to know about the risks associated with casual sex and the limitations of contraception. They want their children to learn about condoms and contraception in the manner provided in an SRA education class.3 It is also important to note that students who have been a part of an SRA class are no less likely to use a condom if they do become sexually active.4


3 Zogby International. (2007, May). Survey of Nationwide Parents of Children Age 10-16 (3/27/07 thru 4/5/07). Retrieved from http://www.abstinenceassociation.org/docs/zogby_questionnaire_050207.pdf.
4 Jemmott, J.B., Jemmott, L.S., Fong, G.T. (2010). Efficacy of a theory-based abstinence-only intervention over 24 months. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.164 (2):152-159.
Trenholm, C, Devaney, 8., Fortson, K., Quay, L., Wheeler,J., & Clark, M.(2007, April).lmpacts of Four Title V, Section 510 Abstinence Education Programs. Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. Retrieved from http:/www.mathematica-mpr.com/publications/ PDFs/ impactabstinenceES.pdf
Kirby, Douglas. (2007, November). Emerging Answers Research Findings on Programs to Reduce Teen Pregnancy. Retrieved from http://search.thenationaIcampaign.orgl?i index=433 1 75&query=kirby&image.x=3&image.y=12&image=Search


There are vast differences between SRA and CSE. The major distinction is how each approaches teen sexual activity.

SRA teaches that primary prevention of high risk sexual behavior is to avoid all sexual activity, and the discussion empowers teens to make the healthiest sexual decision, regardless of their previous sexual experience.5 SRA curricula gives teens all of the vital information about contraception—the health benefits as well as the limitations, including the varying effectiveness against different types of STDs. Classes also demonstrate how high-risk choices can potentially have an impact on different aspects of a teens life beyond just the physical. SRA education empowers teens to make the healthiest choice for their lives—explaining how to some risks can be reduced, but emphasizing how teens can avoid risks completely by delaying sexual activity.

By contrast, CSE assumes that it is unrealistic to expect teens to avoid sexual activity, and that high risk sexual behavior is simply ‘unprotected sex’, so much of their time is spent talking about sex and the use of condoms and other forms of contraception.6 This approach does not take into consideration the possible high-risks of STDs that are less impacted by the use of condoms and can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. It also ignores the possible influence that sexual activity can have on the emotional, mental or social well-being of students.

The most frequently used CSE curricula does include the concept of ‘abstinence’ in the texts, however, the concept rarely warrants anything more than a passing mention. In fact, a review of CSE curricula show that, on average, about 5% of their time is devoted to avoiding sexual activity7 and, rather than clear guidance, the definition of ‘abstinence’ is often subjectively defined by the student. Students are sent nondirective and confusing definitions for abstinence that are filled with risk.8 Alarmingly, CSE curricula present sexual risk avoidance and condom use as equally “safe” options, promoting dangerous and medically inaccurate information to teens.9

The focus of SRA is to empower teens to avoid risk by making good health decisions, regardless of their sexual history. In contrast, CSE sets the bar much lower, assuming teens will engage in sexual activity and focuses merely on reducing the risks of that behavior.

5 Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Trends in the prevalence of sexual behavior. National YRBS: 1991-2009. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYauth/yrbs/trends.htm.
6 US Department of Health and Human Services & the Administration for Children and Families (2007, May).Review of Comprehensive Sex Education Curricula.
Martin, S & Pardue M. (2004, August 10). Comprehensive Sex Education vs. Authentic Abstinence: A Study of Competing Curricula. Heritage Foundation.
7 Ibid.
8 Taverner, B, Montfort, S. (2005). Making Sense of Abstinence. Planned Parenthood of Greater Northern New Jersey.4.
9 National Abstinence Education Association. (2007, June).Straight from the Source. Analysis with direct quotes from the most widely recommended comprehensive sex education curricula.

Absolutely! Sexually experienced teens receive the skills and positive empowerment to make healthier choices in the future as a result of SRA education. A recently published study shows that the sexual risk avoidance message is especially relevant for sexually experienced teens. Those enrolled in an SRA program were much more likely to choose to abstain than their sexually experienced peers who did not receive SRA education.10 Among teens that have had sex, 55% of boys and 72% of girls wish they had waited.11 The SRA message charts the only practical approach away from high-risk behavior and toward a decision that removes future risk for that teen.

10 Borawski, Trapl, Lovegreen, et al. (2005). Effectiveness of abstinence-only intervention in middle school teens. American Journal Health Behavior.
11 With One Voice: America’s Adults and Teens Sound Off about Teen Pregnancy. (2007).The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from http j /www.teenpregnancy.org/resources/data/polling.asp.

SRA education is an evidence-based health message, not a religious or moral one. It does not teach or promote religion. The curricular content of SRA education programs is consistent with the public health prevention model for risk avoidance. In terms of general public health policy, the best health outcomes are made possible by the best positive health behavior messaging. SRA education follows this model, while all other approaches offer a message that still leave youth at risk for the consequences of sexual activity.

Sexual risk avoidance education provides the information necessary for teens to make the healthiest choice and to avoid all risks associated with sexual activity. The fact that many of the world’s major religions support abstinence until marriage does not disqualify SRA as an important public health message. While the sexual risk avoidance message may converge with some religious beliefs, it does not promote religious belief but stands alone as a crucial, primary health message.

The fact that many individuals have sex before marriage and more than 40% of all births are outside of marriage does not diminish the benefits of waiting until marriage to have children, nor does it mean we should abandon the goal of changing the cultural norm for this behavior. In fact, historically, if a cultural behavior or norm is in conflict with the desired outcome, efforts are redoubled, not abandoned. For example, a generation ago smoking was a desired, normative behavior, but today smoking is almost universally viewed as undesirable and unhealthy –proof that cultural and social norms can and do change. Similarly, although growing numbers of Americans are overweight, efforts to encourage exercise and healthy eating habits have increasingly become public health priority messages. We do not compromise our highest public health standards based on the unhealthy choices of a majority, but on standards that promote optimal health outcomes in the population.

Overwhelming social science data reveals that children who are born within a committed married relationship fare better economically, socially, physically and psychologically.12 In terms of child outcomes, the facts are clear—waiting until after marriage to have children is indisputably in the child’s best interest. Further, delaying sexual activity until marriage greatly decreases the risk of contracting STDs. A majority of teens are not sexually active and more and more teens are choosing not to be sexually active, proving that the message of SRA increasingly resonates with youth.13

12 Why Marriage Matters. (2005, September).Second Edition: Twenty-Six Conclusions from the Social Sciences.
Moore, Kristin Anderson, Jekielek, Susan M., Bronte-Tinkew, Jacinta, Guzman, Lina, Ryan, Suzanne.,& Redd, Zakia. (2004, September). What Is a Healthy Marriage?
Waite, L. & Gallagher, M. (2000).The Case for Marriage. NY: Broadway Books
13 Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Trends in the prevalence of sexual behavior. National YRBS: 1991-2009. Retrieved fromhttp://www.cdc.gav/ HealthyYouth/yrbs/trends.htm.

A study posted to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website in August 2010 showed that 70% parents and more than 60% teens believe that sex should be reserved for marriage.14 SRA education is the only sex education approach that provides youth the skills to reach this goal.

Additionally, when parents understand the differences between CSE and SRA, they prefer sexual risk avoidance education to comprehensive sex education by a 2:1 margin.15 Only surveys that provide incomplete or erroneous information show a result different from these findings. Parents across all ideological, political, and demographic boundaries want what is best for their children and in terms of sexual health; the favored approach is sexual risk avoidance education.

14 US Department of Health and Human Services. (2009, February 26). The National Survey of Adolescents and Their Parents: Attitudes and Opinions about Sex and Abstinence. Project #60005. Olsho, L., Cohen, J., Walker, D.K., Johnson, A., & Locke, G. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/fysb/contentldacs/20090226_abstinence.pdf.
15 Zogby International. (2007, May). Survey of Nationwide Parents of Children Age 10-16 (3/27/07 thru 4/5/07). Retrieved from http://www.abstinenceassociation.org/docs/zogby_questionnaire_050207.pdf.

The language used by SRA programs is adopted from the CDCs recommendations for the healthiest context for sexual expression: “The most reliable ways to avoid transmission of STDs are to abstain from sexual activity, or to be in a long-term mutually monogamous relationship with an uninfected partner.”16 Generally in our culture this definition would describe marriage, however, it also applies to LGBTQ youth. SRA classes use this definition to teach the health benefits of delaying the onset of sexual activity regardless of sexual orientation. The younger any young person becomes sexually active, the greater the number of lifetime partners they will likely have, thus increasing their risk for STDs.

SRA programs also encourage and describe healthy relationships and boundaries, identify risk factors of unhealthy or violent relationships, and encourage students to know their rights and connect to peers and mentors who will help lead them to success. Because we focus on health issues common to all youth, our programs and topics are relevant and helpful for young people from any background.

16 CDC Website