Abstinence-only education has been an emphasis in the public school system for a number of years. Although the teen birth rates have been falling over the last few years, sometimes by as much as 9%, the downward trends in teen pregnancies and abortions are following two different paths.
In the United States, teen pregnancies have their highest rates in the states that have abstinence-only policies.
Time after time, the data shows that students who receive a comprehensive sexual education are up to 60% less likely to become pregnant or get someone else pregnant. A 2007 Federal report that was sponsored by the government [who also sponsors the abstinence-only education policies] showed that abstinence only programs have zero impact on the actual rates of abstinence. Despite this data, 37 states in the US still require abstinence-only sex education.
- The US ranks first in the developed world in both teenage sexually transmitted diseases and teenage pregnancy.
- The amount of Federal funding that goes into abstinence-only educational programs every year: $176 million.
- Only 14% of the decline in teenage pregnancy rates is attributed to a decrease, not an elimination, of sexual activities.
- 82% of the over 750,000 teenage pregnancies that occur in the United States each year are unintended.
- More than 25% of teenage pregnancies will end in an abortion.
- Every year, more than 9 million new infections occur in teens and young adults due to their unprotected sexual activities.
- 1 out of every 3 American teens has received no formal educational instruction on the use of contraception.
The problem with abstinence-only education is that it creates three specific negative circumstances. First of all, if a teen succumbs to the call of their desires and has sex, they are made to feel ashamed because they were unable to withstand the “pressures” to have sex. Secondly, the teens that do have this “shameful” sex are ill-prepared to deal with the consequences of their choices because they have limited knowledge about diseases, infections, and contraception. Finally, this results in higher pregnancy rates and higher abortion rates. The result? The religious backing that is attempting to prevent teen sex and eliminate abortions is actually causing more of them.
How Uninformed Is Today’s American Teen?
- The percentage of teens in the US who say that they know very little, if anything, about condoms: 41%.
- 3 out of 4 teens report that they have received no education about the contraceptive pill.
- 46% of teen boys have received no instructions or information about having sex before they decide to have sex.
- 1 out of 3 girls decides to have sex for the first time without having received any information about contraception.
- Only 39% of high schools taught students the proper way to use a condom during a health education course.
- 87% of US public and private schools in 2006 taught students that the most effective method of avoiding pregnancy, STDs, HIV, and other infections was through abstinence.
- 1 in 4 American teens does not receive any information about birth control, either from their health education classes or their parents.
- 19% of high schools do not teach students about the dangers of having multiple sexual partners.
- Only about 1 in 5 elementary schools in the US will teach their students any form of pregnancy prevention.
Many parents do their best each day with their teens to talk to them about sex. The problem that parents have is the same problem that today’s teens have: their information is often incomplete. It’s like telling someone that they can make a lot of money by investing cash now, but then the prospectus isn’t provided. The average American teen is stumbling into their sexual encounters blindly, told that sex is shameful because abstinence is the only acceptable method of conduct, and then left to manage what happens on their own. Until this problem gets effectively solved with comprehensive education, US teen pregnancy and abortion rates will continue to lead the developed world.
Alternative Sources of Information Don’t Exist
- 55% of middle and high school students look to incomplete health education websites to gather information about sex or sexual issues that affect a friend or someone they know.
- Not one single state in the US requires that contraception methods be stressed as part of a health educational program, but 26 states require that abstinence must be stressed.
- Only 2 abstinence-only educational programs that were being taught in American high schools were found to have 100% factual information included with the curriculum.
- The average age of a sexual debut for a teen who went through an abstinence-only program was 14 years, 9 months.
- Abstinence pledges may delay a sexual debut by an average of 18 months, but those who make this pledges are 33% less likely to use contraception when they do have sex for the first time.
- Teens who make abstinence pledges have the same rates of STIs and STDs as teens who do not make abstinence pledges.
- Teens who make an abstinence pledge are 6 times more likely to have had oral sex that those who have not made such a pledge.
With no statistical advantage coming from over 10 years of research and inaccurate information in a vast majority of abstinence-only curriculum, it is strange to see a consistent focus on maintaining this type of education. Foreign studies have concluded that the only explanation for the decreases in teen pregnancies in the US is an increased use of contraceptives. If that is the case, then the educational programs must include these and stress them so that they can be effectively used. There’s nothing wrong with a teen deciding to abstain from sex, even until marriage. The problem is that what is right for one person might not be right for another, so our responsibility is to teach all methods – not just one.