Teen pregnancies on the rise
The teen birth rate has risen for the first time in 14 years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. On average the percentage jumped 3 percent from 2005 to 2006; the rise was highest in black teens—a whopping five percent.
As if this weren’t troubling enough, last month the CDC released news of increasing rates of sexually transmitted disease. The U.S had over 1 million cases of chlamydia in a single year: that’s the most ever reported, anywhere. We win! Gonorrhea rates also increased, as well as syphilis, which, like teen pregnancy rates, jumped after many many years of decline. To complicate matters more, there’s a new gonorrhea superbug on the rise—a strain that’s resistant to antiobiotics.
What’s going on, here? We’ve been enjoying a steady decline in both STD cases and underage pregnancies for well over a decade. Officials for Planned Parenthood pointed an accusatory finger at abstinence-only sex education. “In the last decade, more than $1 billion has been wasted on abstinence-only programs,” said the organization’s president. They argue that states where these programs are more likely to be used are the ones in which teen pregnancy rates have increased the most. On the other side, the Family Research Council, a conservative think tank, blames contraceptive-focused sex education.
So who’s right? My bleeding-heart liberal self always sides with Planned Parenthood and their kind, but you deserve more than my biased opinions. On the side of the pro-abstinence argument, it’s interesting to note that there’s been an increase in the reported use of condoms. (Although, of course, actual use may differ—teens have been known to prevaricate, now and then.) Could teens using condoms experience a high failure rate? Are they putting them on their heads?
As for the argument that abstinence programs directly correspond to increased pregnancy rates, I couldn’t find state-by-state information, but I did find plenty of evidence that abstinence-only programs are ineffective. Only a month ago, Douglas Kirby, a leading sex education researcher, conducted a study for the nonpartisan group National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. His research found that only a couple of abstinence-only programs have proven themselves even slightly effective. Additionally, he found no evidence that providing information on birth control in addition to promotion abstinence “hastened the initiation of sex or increased the frequency of sex.” A study out of Oxford University also found that none of the studied abstinence-only programs (or “programmes,” as they call them) had any impact on the sexual habits of participating youth.
Some have found abstinence-only to be not just ineffective but downright harmful. Consider this argument by John Santelli, a pediatrician and professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, as reported by the Seattle Times: ” Each of these assertions turns up in federally funded abstinence-only sex-education programs: Condoms fail to prevent HIV infection 31 percent of the time during heterosexual sex. The chances of getting pregnant while using a condom are 1 in 6. And condoms break or slip off nearly 15 percent of the time. Each of them is wrong.” Santelli, along with the ACLU, Advocates for Youth, and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States submitted a 20-page document to the Department of Health and Human Services last week. In it, Santelli detailed what he calls “misleading” and “scientifically inaccurate” information.
I couldn’t find a single nonpartisan study that proved abstinence-only programs to be effective in any way. It seems fairly clear that telling teenagers to abstain will not stem the tide of raging adolescent hormones. Teenagers need options, not lectures.
Here’s another statement made by Planned Parenthood: “The United States still holds the dubious distinction of having the highest teen pregnancy rate among the most developed nations. It is time for everyone who cares about teenagers to start focusing on the commonsense solutions that will help solve this problem.”
I don’t think anyone can argue with that sentiment.