When Pure in Heart visited schools with Sellotape in hand to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education they made quite a stir. Mostly due to their usage of the Sellotape to slut-shame any students who may have had premarital sex or multiple partners. Dr. Jacky Jones, formerly of the HSE, wrote a piece in The Irish Times stating that,
All programmes and events delivered by visitors and external agencies must use appropriate, evidence-based methodologies with clear educational outcomes.
What might these be for abstinence programmes? Students will abstain from sexual activity until marriage? An unachievable objective
There is a vast body of evidence to suggest that abstinence-only-until-marriage programmes, of the type Pure in Heart were teaching, are ineffective. In fact, evidence shows that abstinence-only-until-marriage programmes lead to an increase in STDs and pregnancy.
To counter Dr. Jacky Jones, Ben Conroy, Irish Catholic columnist and child of Iona Patron Breda O’Brien, cited a study which, according to him, “seems to demonstrate that abstinence programmes can and do work – if run well.”
The study was called Efficacy of a Theory-Based Abstinence-Only Intervention Over 24 Months. It studied 662 African American students with a mean age of 12.2 years over a two year period. 32.6% of the abstinence-only participants, compared with 46.6% of those in the control group, reported that they had ever had sex two years after completing the programme. So the study seems to support abstinence sex education.
However, there are some very important factors which Ben failed to highlight. The study did not promote abstinence-only-until-marriage, at all.
[T]he 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. 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.
Dr. Jacky Jones was clearly discussing abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education and its ineffectiveness. So why would Ben Conroy counter with a study which explicitly doesn’t consider abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education? The study was conducted to see if sex can be delayed until a time when students might be more prepared, not to abstain from sex entirely until marriage. In fact the study even states,
The results of this trial should not be taken to mean that all abstinence-only interventions are efficacious.
Iona really needs to start researching its research.