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When it comes to abstinence teens, adults aren't speaking the same language
Date:8/6/2008

Abstinence can mean different things to adolescents than to adults. That's one reason why abstinence-only programs do not have strong effects in preventing teenage sexual activity, according to new University of Washington research.

"Interventions that have been created to encourage abstinence have treated abstinence and sexual activity as opposites. However, teenagers say they don't think of them as opposites," said Tatiana Masters, lead author of a new study and UW doctoral student in social work. "These interventions are less likely to work than more comprehensive sex-education programs because they are not meeting adolescents where they are, and they are speaking a different language."

The study showed that attitudes and intentions about sex were more powerful than attitudes and intentions about being abstinent.

"This paper demonstrates that increasing abstinence intention does not lead to less sex. In fact, when abstinence intention and sex intention interact with each other a teenager is more likely to have sex," said Masters.

Rather than being an either or choice, she said, a teenager's decision to become sexually active can be likened to getting on an escalator. At first, adolescents don't think about sex very much. Once they step on the escalator the first step is abstinence. Then as they begin to be aware of sex, there are other steps and choices to be made that eventually lead to having intercourse.

The study involved 365 adolescents 230 girls and 135 boys recruited from community centers, youth programs and after-school programs for a larger research project testing an intervention to reduce HIV risk behavior among young teenagers in Seattle.

The participants filled out questionnaires before starting the larger HIV intervention, eight weeks later when the intervention was completed, and then six and 12 months later. The questionnaires assessed the adolescents' attitudes and intentions abou
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Contact: Joel Schwarz
joels@u.washington.edu
206-543-2580
University of Washington
Source:Eurekalert

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