Two reports – one by the Guttmacher Institute and other from the Heritage Foundation — take differing views on the effects of abstinence and sex education on American teenagers.

The report from the Guttmacher Institute, “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions: National and State Trends and Trends by Race and Ethnicity,” which was released in January, presents the latest teenage pregnancy, birth, and abortion statistics from by state in 2005 and from the entire nation in 2006. Their report states that 7 per cent of girls from 15 to 19 years of age became pregnant in 2006. There was a slight increase in national teenage pregnancy (3 per cent), birth (per cent), and abortion (1 per cent) rates since 2005, although the report acknowledges that “it is too soon to tell whether this reversal is simply a short-term fluctuation … or the beginning of a longer-term increase.” In a news release for the Guttmacher Institute, however, Heather Boonstra, the senior public policy associate, suggests that it is connected with funding for abstinence programs: “It coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration.”

The Guttmacher Institute says on its website that it “is a non-profit organization working to improve reproductive health and influence policy-makers through its research and recommendations,” including on abortion and contraception. It was founded as a division of Planned Parenthood, but later formally became a separate entity.

From 1990 to 2006, the number of teenagers who sought surgical abortions declined by almost one third. Before, the abortion rate rose from 1973 (when abortion was legalized) to 1990. After a precipitous rise in the teenage pregnancy rate in the 1970s and 1980s, but declined by 41 per cent from 1990 to 2005. The report states, without much evidence, that “almost the entire decline in the pregnancy rate between 1995 and 2002 among 18–19-year-olds was attributable to increased contraceptive use. Among women aged 15–17, about one-quarter of the decline during the same period was attributable to reduced sexual activity and three-quarters to increased contraceptive use.”

Valerie Huber, the executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, responding to the report said in a news release that “Research unmistakably indicates that delaying sexual initiation rates and reducing the total number of lifetime partners is more valuable in protecting the sexual health of young people, than simply passing out condoms.”

Meanwhile, a report released by the Heritage Foundation, a Washignton D.C.-based public policy and research think tank, reports on the effectiveness of abstinence education over ‘safe sex’ education. The report, “Evidence on the Effectiveness of Abstinence Education: An Update,” was released in mid-February and it aggregates the findings of 22 studies about abstinence education and virginity pledges. Overall, 17 out 22 studies show “statistically significant positive results, such as delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity, among youths who have received abstinence education.”

One study, originally published by the medical journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine in 2010, examines the rates of sexual activity in a group of African-American youth who were selected to either participate in an abstinence program, a “safe sex” program, a comprehensive sex education program which teaches abstinence and contraception, or a general health program without a sex education component. Two years later, the APAM reported, “about one-third of the participants (of the abstinence program) had initiated sexual activity, compared to nearly one-half of the non-parents who enrolled in a general health program.” The other two programs did not have an impact on the rate of sexual activity and did not increase contraceptive use.

The report claims that encouraging abstinence has positive consequences compared to implicitly accepting sexual activity by promoting “safe sex.” Apart from decreased rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy, studies show that abstinent teens have a better psychological well-being and a higher rate of academic success. “Abstinence programs also provide youths with valuable life and decision-making skills that lay the foundation for personal responsibility and developing healthy relationships.”

The Heritage Foundation study also condemns government and schools for encouraging promiscuity. It points out that he Obama administration eliminated federal funding for abstinence programs and allocated more money towards comprehensive sex education. Furthermore, although 80 per cent of parents want abstinence to be taught in schools, “The prevailing mentality (in the classroom) often condones teen sexual activity as long as youths use contraceptives.” The report recommends the reinstitution of federal funding for abstinence programs.