The Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee today released a new staff analysis of adolescent risk taking and the most effective approaches to prevent unintended teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. The report analyzes Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA), an abstinence-centered approach to sex education, along with Comprehensive Sex Education (CSE), an alternative type of sex education that takes a value-neutral approach with a core message of risk reduction. The report finds that SRA is the better approach, noting that it is consistent with the latest research on teenage behavior and that it fosters healthy development among adolescents.
"When it comes to preventing high-risk behavior among teens, the evidence is clear: risk avoidance is the most effective strategy. This is true of successful public health campaigns to reduce teenage smoking, drinking, and reckless driving, and it is also true of sex education curricula," said Health Subcommittee Chairman Joe Pitts (R-PA). "Particularly when it comes to investing taxpayer dollars, it's time for Congress to look carefully at the effectiveness of these programs and ensure we are supporting the approaches that support healthy choices. This report pulls together important research on adolescent risk avoidance, and it will be an important tool to inform the public discussion as we assess the programs that are being taught in our communities."
The report, entitled Sexual Risk Avoidance:-A Better Approach to Teenage Pregnancy Prevention: Sexual Risk Avoidance, chronicles the history of federal involvement in sex education from the 1960s and 70s through the present, assessing early approaches that were ineffective, the development of abstinence education strategies, and the Obama administration's emphasis on CSE approaches today, despite the lack of evidence that these programs produce a lasting influence on adolescent behavior and risk avoidance.
The report also includes a review of research into adolescent behavior and key findings related to teenage risk taking. Among its findings, the report identifies common elements that are found in successful public health campaigns designed to encourage teens to avoid risk behaviors such as underage drinking, illicit drug use, and reckless driving. The report notes that SRA follows a parallel approach to teenage pregnancy prevention, using behavioral theory and research as the underpinnings and incorporating those strategies that have been successful in other youth risk programs. Finally, the report offers insights into the evaluation process used to determine the effectiveness of these programs.
"America's teens need guidance to protect them from the consequences of risky sexual behavior. Unfortunately, the current course of national policy on teenage pregnancy prevention is undermining the desired health outcome. Careful examination of research confirms that a value-neutral and risk reduction approach to sexual behavior is not consistent with teenage behavioral theory and not effective in impacting America's high rates of teenage pregnancy and STIs. A better approach is needed that incorporates the capability of teens to manage risk in the same way as programs designed to prevent teenage smoking, underage drinking, and reckless driving. Teens are confused by messages that are non-directive about risking taking and optimal health. Instead, they need programs that encourage healthy choices and healthy development," the report concludes. It also offers a series of policy recommendations to ensure federal dollars are invested in programs built on sound theory and empirical evidence, focusing on the better approach to reinforce the importance of healthy decisions.