Evidence-based sex education is solution to teen pregnancies

By on July 26, 2013
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Good news everyone! Teen pregnancy rates are plummeting to an historic low across the country! Bad news everyone! Teen pregnancy rates in the South remained stubbornly above the national average! Whereas states like Oregon, New Jersey and Iowa have rates as low as 25.8, 18.7 and 25.3 births per one thousand teens, respectively. Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama have rates as high as 45.1, 50.2 and 40.5 births per one thousand.

What is going on here? Three words: effective sex education. In Oregon, New Jersey and Iowa, sex education is mandated in school and must be medically accurate. Neither Alabama nor Louisiana has any mandates on sex education in schools. Mississippi has mandatory sex education, but there is no requirement that it must be medically accurate.

Let’s first acknowledge a basic fact – teenagers are reaching that stage when they begin to discover their own bodies. This transition should not be shameful since it is part of human nature. Yet, regrettably, for a variety of reasons, we have stigmatized this fact. Instead of telling teenagers what is happening, society shies away from giving them the proper birds-and-bees talk.

In states with the highest teen pregnancy rates, there often is no sex education. Where it is offered, information is diluted so much that it is essentially useless. These “sex education” courses often tout abstinence as the only option, claiming that birth control is ineffective against pregnancies and STIs. Yes, while abstinence does technically work, it is more or less the nuclear option in sex education. Instead of teaching teenagers that there are other, simple and effective measures, it suppresses their human nature entirely. Some public health campaigns worsen the situation by using shame-based tactics, telling teens that pregnancy is a sure-fire road to failure.

Abstinence is also only a short-term solution. After all, one can’t expect people to stay celibate forever, right? When teenagers who are taught abstinence-only sex education begin to experiment, they are unaware of what they should do to protect themselves, leading to more unwanted pregnancies. Abstinence-only education may even contribute to high pregnancy rates by disparaging contraception as ineffective. Believing that they are useless, teens may even neglect to use contraception when they do become sexually active.

If we truly want to reduce teen pregnancy rates, we must teach teens the truth. Sex education needs to be mandated in schools, and it must actually educate students on what is effective. Sex education needs to stop shaming and stigmatizing sexuality and instead teach teens the knowledge they need to make healthy choices.

Tianjiao Zhang
Staff Writer
tzhang@uab.edu

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