Defining abstinence: views of directors, instructors, and participants in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Texas. Academic Article uri icon


  • This study examined how program directors, instructors, and participant youth from a sample of federally funded abstinence-only-until-marriage education programs in Texas define the term "abstinence" and its object (from what one abstains). A sample of eight programs, from the 32 federally funded programs in the state (funded in fiscal year 2000-2001), were selected for indepth case studies. Interviews were conducted with 29 program staff (10 directors and 19 instructors). Six focus group sessions were held with youth participating in the programs. Interview and focus group transcripts were analyzed qualitatively, with salient themes being coded and counted. Results are presented in terms of frequency of mention of each theme/code. Most respondents (80% of program directors, 89% of instructors, 83% of focus groups) provided definitions of abstinence containing both positive and negative elements. Positive-patterned definitions emphasized specific attitudes and behaviors that must be internalized by youth (Internal Management; Values/Attitudes Incorporation; Abstinence as an Option; Investment in the Future). Negative definitions stressed restraint and avoidance, and focused on the objects of abstinence (Sexual/Vaginal Intercourse; Oral Sex; Anal Sex; Pre-Coital Behaviors; Behaviors with Purpose of Sexual Arousal; Non-Sexual Behaviors). Each element was mentioned by at least 26% of program staff and in at least 17% of youth focus groups. Results indicated substantial variability in how the term "abstinence" is defined. Such variability has implications for development of abstinence education programs, as well as for implementation of valid, equitable, and useful evaluations.

published proceedings

  • J Sch Health

author list (cited authors)

  • Goodson, P., Suther, S., Pruitt, B. E., & Wilson, K.

citation count

  • 41

complete list of authors

  • Goodson, Patricia||Suther, Sandy||Pruitt, BE||Wilson, Kelly

publication date

  • March 2003