Taking a Reasoned Approach: The Jemmott Study and Effective Pregnancy Prevention
Durham, N.C. (February 17, 2010) - We all want North Carolina’s kids and teens to get the effective education they need to grow up to be healthy, responsible adults. Over the past few weeks, a new research study on abstinence-until-ready education has gotten significant attention from the media and some activists. As North Carolina’s leader in teen pregnancy prevention and a staunch advocate for effective education, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina (APPCNC) wants you to understand what this new research says and what it does not say.
Efficacy of a Theory-Based Abstinence-Only Intervention Over 24 Months: A Randomized Controlled Trial With Young Adolescents – now commonly referred to as the Jemmott Study – is included in the February 2010 edition of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. The study was conducted by Dr. John B. Jemmott and Dr. Loretta Jemmott, well-respected researchers who also created the stellar sciencebased comprehensive programs Making Proud Choices and Be Proud, Be Responsible. These two programs, as well as the Be Proud, Be Responsible offshoot ¡Cuidate!, are currently being used in many North Carolina communities.
The vast majority of research on sexuality education shows science-based curricula that include both abstinence and contraception are the most effective curricula available. These curricula are loosely called “comprehensive.” In addition, the long-term Mathematica study clearly shows that abstinence-only-untilmarriage programs, as defined by federal funding guidelines, have no impact on teen behavior. The Jemmott Study provides new data that shows abstain-until-ready education for very young adolescents might have a place on the continuum of effective sexuality education.
In their academic study, the Jemmotts tested four different sexuality education curricula with more than 600 high-risk 6th and 7th graders, almost 25% of whom were already sexually active. One curriculum focused on helping children abstain from sex until they are ready, one focused only on safer sex skills, and two used a comprehensive approach by teaching both abstinence and condom use. The study showed that the abstain-until-ready curriculum was effective at helping students delay having sex for at least 24 months. This provides a theoretical basis for further research on abstinence-until-ready interventions.
Key Points to Keep In Mind
- The Jemmott Study does not provide any data to support abstinence-only-until-marriage education. The abstinence-until-ready program tested was designed to meet public health standards for developing an effective curriculum; not to meet federal funding requirements for abstinence-only-until-marriage education. In the Jemmotts’ own words:
- “It [the abstinence intervention] was not designed to meet federal criteria for abstinence only funding;”
- “The target behavior was abstaining from vaginal, anal and oral intercourse until a time later in life when the adolescent is more prepared to handle the consequences of sex;”
- “The intervention did not contain inaccurate information, portray sex in a negative light, or use a moralistic tone;” and
- “The training and curriculum manual explicitly instructed the facilitators not to disparage the efficacy of condoms or allow the view that condoms are ineffective to go uncorrected.”
- The Jemmott Study provides further proof that including information about condoms does not detract from abstinence messages. The end results of the study show that students receiving a 12-hour comprehensive program and students receiving abstinence-untilready were equally as likely to have abstained from sex within the past three months.
- An effective science-based approach to sexuality education must fit students’ experience levels. In a real world setting, the high-risk students in the Jemmott Study would likely be given the comprehensive intervention to provide potentially life-saving information to the students who are sexually active.
- North Carolina students need the potentially life-saving information provided by effective sexuality education to protect themselves from pregnancy and STDs. 69.1% of North Carolina high school seniors have had sexual intercourse, and 46.8% of those students did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
- Given limited resources, North Carolina must invest in programs that have the most evidence to support their effectiveness. The large majority of research shows that programs that provide information about both abstinence and contraception are the most effective programs.
At APPCNC, our focus is on effective science-based programming and education, and we know that we need more science-based programs to address the varied needs of teens and practitioners. The Jemmott Study provides the initial theoretical basis for providing abstinence-until-ready education on the continuum of effective sexuality education. We will pay close attention to further research, as we do to all research, to see if an abstinence-until-ready program completes the rigorous and necessary evaluations to earn the gold standard of being a science-based program.