For most of the past 20 years teen pregnancy and birth rates have steadily dropped. Until the 2005-2007 time frame at least. During those three years, teen pregnancy and birth rates rose. In 2008 they started dropping again, this time at a much higher rate than prior years. There are many competing theories as to why. Some people claim that the poor economy are driving teens to have less sex and others claim comprehensive sex education is behind the trend.
Looking at the numbers it seems clear that comprehensive sex education is at least a major factor if not the primary driving force behind the drop. Texas has the highest number of abstinence only programs AND has the highest teen birth rate. Meanwhile states with more comprehensive sex education programs like Connecticut and Vermont, have the lowest birth rates. Call me crazy but that seems like clear evidence that abstinence-only sex education just does not work.
Perhaps more importantly, abstinence only programs may actually be dangerous to a teen’s health. Researchers found that students who signed a virginity pledge were just as likely to be having sex at the same age as teens that did not, however they are LESS likely to use condoms or other contraceptives leaving them more vulnerable to pregnancy and STD’s. Considering that almost half of all newly reported STD infections are among people under the age of 25, not using condoms during sex is really a bad idea. The rates go even higher with HIV, 50% of all new HIV cases are under the age of 20.
Luckily across the board these rates are trending down. According to one study the rate of teens that had sex without contraception dropped from 16% to 12% and the rate of teens using two forms of contraception, such as condoms and birth control pills, rose from 5% to 9%. This is likely thanks in part to the teen pregnancy prevention initiative launched by the Obama administration; which awarded $110 million to programs with proven effectiveness.
Considering that 45% of Americans have had sex by the time they turn 18, it is unrealistic to think that an abstinence only education will provide teens with the information they need to protect themselves. Yes, not having sex is the only 100% way to not get pregnant, but clearly that’s not the reality of our society. According to a study in 2002, 95% of Americans between the ages of 15 and 44 had sex before marriage. It’s time people stopped pretending that sex doesn’t happen and start teaching ALL teens about safe sex, not just the ones who are lucky enough to live in more progressive states.