There are those, for instance, whom argue that abstinence-based programs are most likely to attain public policy goals such as the reduction of teen pregnancy, the prevention of sexually transmitted disease, and the emotional well-being of America's youth. On the other hand, there are many scholars and professional organizations that criticize abstinence-based programs as being too narrow in scope; these arguments tend to argue for what has become known as comprehensive sex education programs. This essay will examine both arguments with particular attention being paid to the potential for bias and the research data that has been discovered. Despite vociferous protests to the contrary, it would appear that comprehensive sex education programs work best.
A typical defense of abstinence-based programs is the one presented by the Heritage Foundation; it is typical because it phrases its philosophy in moral terms while only presenting data which supports its position. The approach is therefore twofold: (1) this type of argument presumes to speak for all Americans in terms of social values and mores and (2) this type of approach does not reference research studies or data that conflict with its desired position.
Rector, for instance, writing for the Heritage Foundation, argues that "Abstinence education programs for youth have been proven to be effective in reducing early sexual activity. Abstinence programs also can provide the foundation for personal responsibility and enduring marital commitment" (2002). A careful reading of these statements demonstrates the author's motivations and bias. Rather than stating common public health objectives, such as the prevention of pregnancy or the prevention of sexually transmissible disease, the author instead relies on ethical norms such as "personal responsibility" and "enduring marital commitment". There is an early deviation from the anticipated goals and this should make the reader suspicious of any subsequent statements or conclusions. The Heritage Foundation, after all, is a conservative think tank often associated with religious groups and social conservatives. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that their research would lean towards an abstinence-based approach.
More interesting is the data provided and the data omitted. Rather than presenting data from peer-reviewed journals, Rector instead sets forth a laundry list of the consequences of early sexual activity (2002). These consequences are hardly in dispute; the more precise issue is how to deal with early sexual activity. Thus, the Heritage report, which states so confidently that abstinence-based programs work, presents nothing in the majority of the article except its own ethical view of American society and consequences designed to inspire fear and a sense of panic. Moreover, the report characterizes anything more than an abstinence-based program as a "sexual scandal" (Rector, 2002) promoting teen sex. They list a few studies in support of their position, rather minor studies with small sample populations, but neglect to even mention studies that conflict with their own. Rector sums up by stating without hesitation that
Real abstinence education is essential to reducing out-of-wedlock childbearing, preventing sexually transmitted diseases, and improving emotional and physical well-being among the nation's youth. True abstinence education programs help young people to develop an understanding of commitment, fidelity, and intimacy that will serve them well as the foundations of healthy marital life in the future (Rector, 2002).
Even a cursory examination of the relevant research, however, suggests that Rector has omitted research, whether intentionally or