Teen pregnancy is on the rise.* After a decade of decline, it would appear that boys and girls are still boys and girls. Why are we surprised?
Guttmacher's media release is taking the position that the increase is due in large part to the years of emphasis on abstinence education. While I'm a fan of Guttmacher's work, I'm thinking perhaps they haven't quite grasped that correlation does not equal causation. Pointing to the curriculum is yet again another way to pass the blame.
The fact is that abstinence only education programs don't work. But neither do programs that emphasize protection. And that makes sense. If abstain only doesn't work, neither will abstain unless.
Because teenagers are not looking to their educators to make their decisions regarding sex. They haven't been for a long while.
Research documents that only 4% of students are looking to educators for information and influence on sexual decisions. 4%. Educators come in behind parents, peers, and even religious leaders. Teachers even rank below the latest show on TV.
Suggesting that these curriculum are responsible for a rise or decrease in teen sexuality is nothing more than shifting burden and ignoring the reality that the communication breakdown is closer to home. Pouring our tax dollars into programs that attempt to instill morals into children is futile. The influence just isn't there.
Because kids will be kids. And kids want to make these kinds of decisions based on what their parents teach them. They want to hear about what their peers are doing. They want to be educated by their mentors, their friends, their siblings, but not their school systems.
And even equipped with all the information, teens will still take the risk. Their prefrontal cortex practically encourages it. They have decreased inhibitions. Their brains will evaluate all the data and consequence and then do it anyway. Because an adolescent brain believes "it won't happen to them." And if it does, the believe they can deal with it. This portion of the brain isn't fully developed until the mid twenties. So of course teenagers are going to have sex. And because girls are far more fertile in these years, of course this sex has a greater chance of leading to pregnancy.
It ought to be common sense that teen pregnancy will rise and decline.
The National Campaign To Prevent Teen Pregnancy attributes the most recent increase on several factors. Among them, trends in the culture. Attitudes regarding sexuality have ebbed and flowed for decades, and currently, teens are exposed to an environment where sexuality simply means different things.
But it is rather discouraging, that these new reports seem to ignore the variable most responsible for the change. Parents need to stop and think very seriously about what these new stats are saying.
If teenagers are ranking their parents as the preferred source for influence regarding their sexual decisions (and they are), then the burden lies in the home. It doesn't fall on our neighbor, the tax payer, to pour their dollars into the these programs. The burden rests on the primary care givers of children to teach them what they need to know. And if this relationships forfeits the communication necessary, then these are the consequences that come.
Teens have consistently stated they want more information regarding sexuality. That they want to be given the facts regarding pregnancy and disease. Close to half of students in grades 7-12 state they want more factual information regarding birth control, HIV/AIDS and other STDs, and that they want instruction on what to do in events of rape or assault. They also want council regarding how to discuss these issues with their partner.
Certainly, we need educational systems. Because yes, facts must be given. But far too many are expecting the classroom to replace the kitchen table. And there is simply no study that supports that morality is best taught in this setting. It hasn't worked in years.
"A Harris Poll in 1988 found that 85 percent of adults support required sex education programs in schools. Yet a 50-state survey a decade later by Child Trends found that 19 states have an official policy requiring or encouraging pregnancy prevention programs in the public schools. In contrast, states have been much more aggressive in educating students about STDs. All but 8 states have an official policy regarding HIV/AIDS education in their public schools. Despite that emphasis by states, many teens continue to take risks. Less than half of sexually experienced teen boys and only 38 percent of teen girls say they have used birth control every time they have had intercourse." (source below, emphasis mine). Keep in mind, this is with sex education programs in place.
More than half of sexually experienced teen boys and girls don't use any sort of birth control every time they have intercourse. Big surprise. Adults don't either. In fact, adults outrank teens in their irresponsibility. So, if teens are looking to their parents and mentors, is it any wonder the mores and norms they are following lead to these increases?
Just as recently as December of 2009, The NCTPTP studies showed that young adults (18-29) were themselves misinformed regarding contraception, with only half of them using any type of birth control regularly. The findings were insulting to a civilized society. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed said they knew little or nothing about the birth control pill. Unbelievably, close to thirty percent of the men surveyed believed doubling up the condom would give them extra protection against a potential pregnancy. This practice in fact increases risks of breaking the condoms.
The American Social Health Association released a study in 2004 showing that eighty-two percent of sexually active 18-34 year olds never use any barrier protection when engaging in oral sex. Close to half stated they go without condoms during intercourse. Of those in the study who were single and sexually active, almost three-quarters said they participate in oral sex without protection and close to a quarter stated they never use condoms.
These current surveys with young adults only bolster the argument that the disconnect has been happening for generations.
Or, that people just like to have sex. And that people take the risk over abstinence.
After all, a few years back we learned that even our grandparents were doing it. In the study published by Public Health Reports in 2006, we learned that pretty much since the forties, premarital sex was common place in the U.S.
Frankly, teenagers at least have their young developing brains to blame. Hormones are pretty powerful things. But we adults are doing teens a great disservice, if only by our influence. Why would a child, looking to grown ups for influence, go against the evidence that adults are often hypocrites.
It is estimated that half of all pregnancies are unintended. (The spin of that wording chills me). And these pregnancies include teens. Once again, with those numbers climbing.
Somewhere, there is a very real bottom line to all these findings...
The hardship and joys of pregnancy is a burden and blessing no person ought to bear alone. The decision to terminate or release rights or raise a child when still a child yourself is a travesty for a civilized society. In third world countries where destitution rules the environment of men, women and children, it can be expected that pregnancy and disease will run rampant (more on that issue here ), but the recent data showing the latest trends for teens and adults should cause us much reflection. It is one thing if an adult has opted to take their own risks fully aware and informed of the consequence. It is another when our children are looking to us regarding their decision, and we are absent.
There is no evidence of a moral gene. We can't mandate right and wrong when it comes to the freedom of decision every human has within themselves. Not really. But, generation after generation we've been shown that we can build a better nest at home.
And that's going to have to include an end to the shift of burden that points the finger in another direction and refuses to listen to what children are actually saying regarding the education. It's going to take young adults getting educated themselves, and then mentoring these teens towards better things. It's going to have to start with you and with me.
Or we'll continue to see the ebb and flow.
New reports covering years after 2006 have been released by the CDC, showing teen pregnancy at a record low. "The teen pregnancy rate in 2009, the latest year for which data are available, hit its lowest since tracking began 70 years ago, the Center for Disease Control said on Tuesday." Source: Reuters, April 2011
“Don’t have sex but if you do you should use birth control or protection.” When asked if that statement encouraged teens to have sex, about half of teens (53%) and adults (50%) disagreed. On the other hand, almost half of teens (44%) and adults (46%) said such a message does encourage teens to have sex.
"Abstinence programs have received more than $1.5 billion nationally since 1996. According to a new report by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States that examines state-by-state spending for abstinence education, 25 states are now rejecting the money. The state profile found that almost half of the abstinence money goes to Southern states, with Texas receiving the highest amount — $18.2 million for 2007."
*Sources outside of those linked include: (USAToday: Sex ed: Any link between what teens learn, how they behave?), NYTimes Analysis (NYTimes: Scant Drop Seen in Abortion Rate if Parents Are Told), Annie Casey Foundation, MSNBC reports (NBC News/People Mag poll w/Princeton Survey Research Associates), National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Guttmacher. Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation (Kaiser), Sex Education in America: A View From Inside The Nation’s Classrooms, Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser, 2000. Source: AGI, Teen pregnancy: trends and lessons learned, The Guttmacher Report on Public Policy, 2002, 5(1):7–10.