Millions of Dollars Spent, and No Difference

Tonight we had one of our monthly God @ Work (@ The Pub) sessions in the Queens Oak down the hill from St James. This time Becky had been asked to talk about her work, which is as a school nurse focusing in particular sex education. Becky talked about the difficulties of resolving her personal opinions, with what she feels she should be saying to the young people from a professional point of view, and also what she feels her Christian faith should lead her to tell the young people, and the tension between those aspects of her life. As is quite often the case in such discussions the group quite quickly got onto the subject of abstinence programmes, particularly those backed by conservative Christian groups such as the Silver Ring Thing.

This proved to be a somewhat appropriate topic considering an article this weekend reporting on a report on the effectiveness of abstinence programmes by Mathematica Policy Research in the US. Essentially despite the US government having poured nigh on a billion dollars into abstinence programmes over the past decade, this multi-year comparison of such programmes with regular sex education has shown that there is no difference at all in the outcome. It is quite amazing how closely all the major criteria match between the groups on the abstinence programmes, and the control group, and would certainly be seen as a disappointment to those backing such schemes.

In the UK, abstinence programmes are not as widespread, however with our reputation for the Silver Ring Thing do have a UK programme. Looking at what is officially offered an Ofsted report last week into PSHE (Personal Social and Health Education) in schools found that young people felt that both parents and teachers were not good at talking about sexuality and as a result they were turning to magazines for help. Barely a year ago, another report said that UK sex education was ‘too biological’. It seems almost inevitable that pressure to run more of these abstinence programmes in the UK is going to come – but are they going to be any more successful?

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