By Melissa Schorr
Thursday April 19, 2001
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - A curriculum advocating sexual abstinence for high-school students appears to be more effective if adolescents complete homework exercises with their parents, researchers report.
In the study, a group of eighth-grade students at three middle schools near Rochester, New York were taught a standard five-week, abstinence-only curriculum called ``Managing the Pressures Before Marriage,"" which was developed by the Center for Adolescent Reproductive Health at Grady Memorial Hospital. The program is taught by trained high school students, and half of the students were given homework assignments that were designed to encourage communication about sex between parents and their children.
Those who had the extra assignments reported more frequent communication about sex with their parents and said they were less likely to have sex before finishing high school, according to the report in the March/April issue of the journal Family Planning Perspectives.
Around 350 students completed surveys a week before the course and a week after the course had ended. Six percent reported they had previously had sexual intercourse.
The study was conducted by Susan M. Blake, an associate research professor at George Washington University Medical School in Washington, DC and colleagues.
Previous studies have found that communication on sex, as well as a wide range of factors, can affect a teen's decision to delay sex, according to the report. Other factors include parental supervision, family structure, the parent's own beliefs about sex and the timing of conversations.
The study was funded by the US Department of Health and Human Services' Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Programs.
``The findings provide some evidence that underscores the essential role parents play in sexuality education,"" said Sara Seims, president of The Alan Guttmacher Institute, the nonprofit group that focuses on reproductive issues and publishes Family Planning Perspectives.
The researchers found that students who actually completed the homework were even more likely to say they intended to stay abstinent until marriage. About 65% of the students completed the first assignment, but the completion rate dropped to 38% for the last of the 5 sessions.
It was unclear whether those students who felt that way before the intervention voluntarily chose to complete more of the assignments, or whether the assignments actually helped change the student's minds.
Also unclear is whether or not these effects will be long-lasting. ``The most crucial question that our study leaves unanswered,"" the researchers write, ``is the extent to which the changes that we observed immediately post-intervention will produce longer-term changes in sexual onset and behavior.
""SOURCE: Family Planning Perspectives 2001; 33: 52-61