As a proposal to grant $135 million for abstinence education awaits Senate approval the British Medical Journal reports that sex education programs—both abstinence-only and safe sex curriculums—are not working.

A Canadian research team led by Alba DiCenso, professor at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, reviewed 22 studies on 26 programs in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe. The findings show that sex ed efforts do not delay initiation of sexual intercourse, improve percentage of birth control usage, or reduce pregnancy rates. In fact, five of the studies—four of which focused on abstinence programs—showed an increase in pregnancies in females whose partners who went through the classes.

"What the study shows is that none of the abstinence programs work," Judith De Sarno, president of the National Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, told Fox News. "There has been an increase in the teen pregnancy rate, and what it shows is what logic should tell us: giving our kids wrong information and giving them scare tactics doesn't work."

Chad Hills disagrees. The abstinence education advocate for Focus on the Family told Christianity Today that the study is actually worse news for safe-sex curriculums, which made up the majority of those evaluated. According to a Focus on the Family paper on the study, "the most significant finding in this report is that condom-based programs have been dismal failures."

Focus found "significant problems" with the abstinence programs that the study evaluated. While the study analyzes four abstinence programs, Hills says, only three call themselves abstinence programs, and none of them is solely an abstinence-until-marriage program.

"I was reading this [report] and thinking, 'Where in the world did you guys dig this stuff up?'" Hills told Christianity Today. "There are tons of abstinence programs around the world, and these guys dig up these obsolete, not even purely abstinence programs to report on. They are little groups of people. And that's not surprising, because they are easy prey."

Because abstinence programs are relatively new compared to risk-reduction or reproductive biology curriculums, there is less research available on them. But there is ample evidence for abstinence programs' effectiveness, according to Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Robert Rector. In April, he wrote a report detailing the scientific evaluations of ten abstinence-only programs. Such curriculums, he concluded, "have repeatedly been shown to be effective in reducing sexual activity among their participants." A 2001 study published in the American Journal of Sociology found that teens who make virginity pledges stay virgins 18 months longer than those who do not. A study commissioned by Focus on the Family is due next year.

"Funding for the evaluation of abstinence education programs until very recently has ranged from meager to nonexistent," Rector wrote, "As each year passes, it can be expected that the number of evaluations showing that abstinence education does significantly reduce sexual activity will grow steadily."

In the meantime, battles over sex education in the U.S. continue to heat up in courts and the legislature. For example, the ACLU has filed suit against the state of Louisiana for allegedly using federal funds to promote religious messages in an abstinence program.

By the end of the year, the Senate is scheduled to decide whether to reauthorize the Welfare-Reform Act of 1996, which contained federal funds for abstinence education. President Bush's proposal for the bill, which passed the House in May, boosts federal support for such programs from $50 million to $135 million.

Todd Hertz is assistant online editor for Christianity Today.