Professor to Present Research at HIV Conference


Macon–Contrary to the popular argument that comprehensive sex education that includes information about abstinence, contraception and sexually transmitted disease prevention provides confusing, “mixed messages” to teens, today’s youth are rarely confused by such courses, according to research by Mercer University School of Medicine Professor Dr. Mike Smith.

Smith, who also serves as director of AIDS education and research, will present a new study regarding mixed messages as they relate to sex education at the National HIV Prevention Conference at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta on Tuesday.

In fiscal year 2005, the United States federal government provided $155 million in funding for sex education programs that promote “abstinence only until marriage.”   Professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association, however, support comprehensive sex education, arguing that there is extensive evidence that well-designed, comprehensive sex education programs are effective, but that there is little if any evidence in support of abstinence-only programs. Research has demonstrated that abstinence-only programs can delay first intercourse, but they have also shown that teens in these programs are more likely to have unprotected sex when they do first have sex.

The primary argument used by proponents of abstinence-only programs is that comprehensive sex education presents “mixed messages” that confuse teenagers.

Although it is self-evident that comprehensive programs present a mixed message, Smith’s research suggests that teenagers generally can recognize mixed messages and that they rarely are confused by them.
Smith said teens acknowledged that some mixed messages are more confusing that others, but they generally agreed that a teacher’s messages that promote both abstinence and contraception were the least confusing of all those presented in this study. The data analyzed suggests, in fact, that teens from a wide range of backgrounds (black/white, rural/urban, pregnant/non-pregnant) do not misinterpret the intent of such messages. 

“There appears to be little potential for well-crafted, comprehensive sex education messages to confuse most teens or promote sexual risk-taking,” Smith noted. “These findings support the position of the mainstream national medical organizations and add to the call for our government to reconsider its support of abstinence-only programs.”

For the study, Smith and his colleague, Randolph Devereaux, conducted focus groups with teenagers at a Macon high school as well as the Teen Parenting Center in Macon and  as well as a community in rural Georgia in February and March of 2005. Smith has been on the faculty of Mercer University School of Medicine for 20 years.
About Mercer University School of Medicine:
Mercer University’s School of Medicine was established in 1982 to educate physicians and health professionals to meet the primary care and health care needs of rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia. Students entering Mercer University School of Medicine will be graduated from a school that utilizes a problem-based medical education program that provides early patient care experiences. Such an academic environment fosters the early development of clinical problem-solving and instills in each student an awareness of the place of the basic medical sciences in medical practice.