Abstinence only until marriage programs in the United States of America (USA): Science and human rights

John S. Santelli, Mary A. Ott, Joanne Csete, Shama Samant, Dana Czuczka

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Promotion of abstinence only until marriage (AOUM) programs has been a failed social experiment in the United States of America (USA), one that dangerously influenced global health thinking about adolescent sexual and reproductive health. While implemented widely in the USA through public health systems and public schools after 1998 and community-based organizations after 2000, the consensus of medical and public health organizations rapidly turned against these programs in the 2000s. In a key policy paper, the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine (SAHM) described abstinence from sexual intercourse as a potentially healthy choice particularly for younger adolescents and those deciding they were not ready for sexual involvement. SAHM pointed out that few Americans remain abstinent until marriage, abstinence intentions often fail, and that abstinence as a sole option for teens is problematic from the perspectives of both science and human rights. Scientific critiques of AOUM programs note a lack program efficacy, the poor design of such programs, and a lack of medical accuracy in commonly used curricula, particularly misinformation about condoms. Program expectations are commonly inconsistent with the sexual realities of young people's lives and inconsistent with parent preferences for comprehensive sexuality education (e.g., sexuality education that includes discussion about abstinence and birth control) (Albert, 2010). Rights-based critiques include: withholding life-saving information; censoring of textbooks and teachers; promotion of sexist and racist stereotypes; and insensitivity and unresponsiveness to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. As such, AOUM programs are counter to standards in medical ethics and international human rights that prioritize informed consent and right to health information. The waning of such programs in the USA reflects: these scientific and human rights concerns; the effective use of key scientific arguments; the rejection of programs by mainstream public health officials; and change in political leadership.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCurrent Issues and Controversies in School and Community Health, Sport and Physical Education
PublisherNova Science Publishers, Inc.
Pages23-34
Number of pages12
ISBN (Print)9781621003274
StatePublished - Dec 1 2012

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)
  • Social Sciences(all)

Cite this

Santelli, J. S., Ott, M. A., Csete, J., Samant, S., & Czuczka, D. (2012). Abstinence only until marriage programs in the United States of America (USA): Science and human rights. In Current Issues and Controversies in School and Community Health, Sport and Physical Education (pp. 23-34). Nova Science Publishers, Inc..