Abstinence Does Not Reduce Risky Sex
A much-touted form of sex education encourages abstinence from sexual relations until an individual is married or in an adult relationship. Advocates say abstinence reduces sexual risk-taking.
“The underlying assumption is that delay reduces sexual risk-taking”—and with it unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, according to University of South Florida psychologist Dr. Marina A. Bornovalova. “If they just wait, then they’ll be less likely to have multiple partners or get pregnant early.”
“But until now, no one had tested this assumption.”
A study by Bornovalova and her colleagues put the lie to that assumption.
The researchers did discover a positive correlation between early sexual initiation (16 years old or younger) and later sexual risk-taking. But delayed sex did not influence sexual risk-taking later in life such as multiple partners, drug and alcohol use during sexual encounters, or unprotected intercourse.
The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
The researchers looked at more than 1,000 pairs of identical and fraternal twins enrolled in the longitudinal Minnesota Twin Family Study (MTFS). These twins, aged 11 at the time of enrollment, were questioned on biological, social, and psychological factors, from parental drug use to age of puberty to friendliness.
Then, at age 24, they were asked about the risks they were taking in their sex lives. In some pairs, one twin had early sex and the other didn’t – and the two twins were compared on their sexual risk-taking in adulthood.
Numerous runs of the data led to the same conclusion, Bornovalova said: “You take two twins who share 100 percent of their genes. One has sex at 15 and one at 20. You compare them on risk-taking at 24—and they don’t differ.”
The research brings up a question of timing – why are some sexually promiscuous?
According to the researchers that answer may be that it is a combination of genetic factors—such as the strong inherited tendency to be impulsive or anti-social – and environmental ones, such as poverty or troubled family life. Biology and life experience may fuel early sexual initiation and risk taking later in life.
However, the psychologists aren’t advocating sex at a very early age; it very well might have other harmful effects on a teenager, such as depression or poor school performance.
“But if our goal is to reduce sexual risk-taking, we need to be focusing on something else,” said Bornovalova. “More study is needed to zero in on what that something else is. But for now, one thing should be clear to the people writing sex ed curricula: Whatever is causing sexual risk-taking, it is not early sexual initiation.”
Nauert PhD, R. (2011). Abstinence Does Not Reduce Risky Sex. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 28, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/news/2011/05/18/abstinence-does-not-reduce-risky-sex/26296.html