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Risk Avoidance vs. Risk Reduction

In the field of high-risk behavior, abstinence education is now referred to as sexual risk avoidance (SRA) education, which more accurately represents the approach that is taken.

“Sexual Risk Avoidance is a “comprehensive” approach that provides medically accurate information on pregnancy prevention/ STI prevention as developmentally appropriate. All SRA curriculums are inclusive and use a trauma informed care approach.

All NJ DOH Sexual Health Education Programs focus on the delay of early sexual activity and are required by law to stress abstinence. We do not support any programs that promote only SRR and/or assume that the majority of youth are sexually active.

An easy way to understand the approach is to juxtapose it with sexual risk reduction (SRR) education:

SRA: Sexual Risk Avoidance SRR: Sexual Risk Reduction
·       Encourages eliminating all risks associated with early sexual activity ·      Encourages reducing the risks associated with early sexual activity
·       Represents a primary prevention approach to optimal health ·      Represents a secondary and/or tertiary approach to practicing a risky behavior
·       Assumes that youth can decide to postpone early sexual activity; acknowledges that a majority of youth are not sexually active. ·      Assumes that youth need to be taught ways to reduce their risk by managing a risky behavior; assumes that a majority of youth are sexually active.
·       Distinguishes between the safety of avoiding early sexual activity vs. the risk of engaging in the behavior. ·      Often implies that the level of risk is acceptable, as long as methods such as condom/contraceptive use are employed.

There is much more that can be said about the differences between the SRA and SRR approaches. Certainly, both are needed in the general population. What is undeniable, however, is that SRA maximizes the potential of a healthy future for young people who avoid early sexual activity. Youth who adopt the SRA approach in their personal lives are free to focus on their hopes and dreams for the future and are not derailed by sexually transmitted disease, unwanted pregnancy, and the potential emotional impact of sexual behavior.

Educators who employ an SRA approach have a holistic perspective. They believe youth can be taught how to navigate adolescence by avoiding risk, and will respond positively to the encouragement to do so. In the end, young people will make their own choice but they shouldn’t have to do it without full disclosure of what is involved in both approaches.