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U.S. Abstinence Programs Ineffective for HIV Prevention

Analysis of 13 trials suggests they have no effect on self-reported sexual behavior

FRIDAY, Aug. 3 (HealthDay News) -- Abstinence-only programs in the United States have no effect on the risk of HIV infection based on self-reported sexual behavior, according to a systematic review of 13 trials published online Aug. 3 in BMJ.

Kristen Underhill, M.Sc., and colleagues from the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, reviewed 13 published trials on sexual abstinence-only programs for HIV prevention involving 15,940 youths in the United States. All biological and behavioral outcomes were self-reported.

The researchers found that the studies were heterogeneous and did not allow for a meta-analysis. Abstinence-only programs had no impact on the incidence of unprotected vaginal sex, condom use, number of partners or sexual initiation. The programs also had no effect on preventing sex or reducing the frequency of sex. Some trials showed protective and adverse effects of abstinence-only programs, but this was offset by other trials with non-significant findings.

"In contrast to abstinence-only programs, programs that promote the use of condoms greatly reduce the risk of acquiring HIV, especially when such programs are culturally tailored behavioral interventions targeting people at highest risk of HIV infection," Nancy B. Kiviat, M.D., from the University of Washington in Seattle, and colleagues write in an accompanying editorial.

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