Human rights, cultural, and scientific aspects of abstinence-only policies and programs

Research paper by John S. Santelli, Leslie M. Kantor

Indexed on: 01 Sep '08Published on: 01 Sep '08Published in: Sexuality Research and Social Policy


Taken as a whole, these articles build a strong scientific and human rights case against AOE. Together, they find that the very idea of an abstinence-only approach to sexuality education is scientifically and ethically flawed. Such programs reflect a religious and cultural belief system of socially conservative groups who have attained considerable political leverage at both state and federal levels. AOE programs not only fail the usual public-health standard of program efficacy but also actively restrict lifesaving information and promote misinformation about scientifically accepted public-health strategies such as condom use.As the articles in this special issue show, science should drive public-health decision making—which, in turn, should inform public policy on health promotion and disease prevention (Koplan & McPheeters, 2004). In the case of AOE, politics and ideology have influenced publichealth policy and undermined scientific evidence about the best approaches to preventing unwanted outcomes regarding adolescents’ sexual behavior. Science, not ideology, should shape the future of public-health prevention policies for youth. This struggle will be difficult: Both scientific expertise and political leadership will be needed to change these misguided policies.