MTV May Be Partially Responsible For The Lowest Teen Pregnancy Rate In U.S. History, Plus 14 People On What Sex Ed Never Taught Them
While the state of sex education in the United States is nothing short of abysmal, recent data from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that the rate of teen pregnancy is at an all-time low in the U.S.. Another recently released report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which looked at the 2013-2014 school year, found that only half of high schools (and less than one-fifth of middle schools) "are teaching all of the sex education topics recommended by the [CDC]."
Additionally, the CDC report explains, the least likely topic to be covered was how to obtain and properly use condoms. So, since our nation's joke of a sex ed curriculum certainly can't take all the credit for this decline in teen pregnancies, what is affecting this change? Surprisingly, many advocates are looking toward MTV and its programs like Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant as one of the factors helping to reduce unplanned pregnancies among teenagers.
The data from the National Center for Health Statistics, which studied information between the years 2013 and 2014, found that the birthrate among youths aged 15-19 dropped 9 percent. That comes out to 24.2 births per every 1,000 women — the lowest numbers that we've ever seen. This data looks at teenagers from all races. Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy told BuzzFeed, “The majority of adults think it’s going up, rather than going down. This is the greatest story never told.” Albert continued to explain, as BuzzFeed reports, "that a combination of both contraception and abstinence teaching has shifted behavior. He also credited the MTV shows Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant with exposing teens to the unglamorous reality of teenage pregnancy. 'Young people tell us that these shows are far more sobering than salacious,' he said."
As Mic reports, researchers and advocates in 2014 previously found connections between a drop in teen pregnancy rates and these MTV programs. The National Bureau of Economic Research found a 5.7 percent decrease in the US teen birthrate in the subsequent 18 months after the 16 and Pregnant premiere. EJ Dickson writes for Mic, "While correlation does not equal causation, there might be a grain of truth to the idea that the show is scaring away teens from having unprotected sex."
The fact that less young people than ever before are having to face the struggles of unplanned pregnancy is certainly fantastic news, but we can't discuss any successes without also discussing the horrific sex education provided to our youth (if they are even provided with any sex education at all). We should not have to rely on MTV or a student's access to cable to make up for our lacking national curricula. For starters, only 22 states and Washington DC are mandated to have sexual education in their public schools, and of that, only 13 states are required to present "medically-accurate" information to their students. (?!?!?!?!) 39 states are mandated to include abstinence-only education in their lessons, despite study after study revealing the absolutely ineffective and harmful nature of this kind of education. In 2008, The University of Washington, Seattle "found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 60 percent less likely to get pregnant or to get someone pregnant."
When the National Center for Health Statistics released their data about declining teen pregnancy rates, they also specified that Alaska, Montana, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, North Dakota and Wyoming showed little to no changes in the teen pregnancy rate within their states. Dickson writes for Mic, "Five of these states have sex ed curricula that stress or cover abstinence, either alone or in tandem with contraception education, while Wyoming and Alaska do not require that sex ed be taught in schools at all." What a coincidence!
Yes, things are slowly improving, and this declining teen pregnancy rate is certainly evidence of that. But the road ahead of us is long. Teen pregnancy isn't as frequent now, but what about STIs? The CDC says that, yearly, "half of all new STIs in the country occur among young men and women." Lynn Barclay, President of the American Sexual Health Association, previously told Bustle, "When we finally give in and help our young people and all people be healthy, we, as a nation, will be better off. We will get there, but how long will it take?"
I asked 14 people about their experiences in high school sex education classes, and what information they didn't get to learn about pregnancy and contraception.
1. Susan, 23
2. Ariel, 23
3. Molly, 23
My experience was focused more on scaring me into abstinence (examining photos of STDs, watching videos of home births, etc.) then giving me practical knowledge of how to have sex in an emotionally and physically safe and responsible way.... I was not shown how to put on a condom. There was no mention of how to put on a condom or about oral contraceptives. No mention of UTIs, which are so common among women, especially when they first begin to have sex. There was no discussion of sex that wasn't between a straight man and a straight woman. And I went to a public school in the supposedly liberal city of Los Angeles. Who knows what was taught elsewhere.
4. Elliott, 30
5. Evelyn, 23
6. Delia, 26
I actually can't remember having sex ed in high school.
7. Jill, 23
I wish my health class had explained each method of birth control — how to use it, how to obtain it, and how effective it was. Health was one semester, and the teacher had to cover many other parts of "health" including "sexual health." Not only was curriculum space likely an issue, but I went to a Catholic high school. Probably because of conservative values and religious philosophy, health classes did not include many explicit details about sex or ways to prevent pregnancy in the event someone did actually have sex. My teacher never said "abstinence is the ONLY moral and right way to prevent pregnancy" but it was implied that abstinence was the most effective (probably true) and most preferred (not by everyone...) way. We seemed to have plenty of time to learn about STIs and the dangers of having sex, but again, we did not receive much information about birth control.
8. Ali, 24
9. Jessica, 25
My sex ed class consisted of a Christian zealot telling me that I would go to hell if I had sex before marriage. And also that the only way to keep from getting pregnant and contracting AIDS was to completely abstain from sex. No methods of contraception, safe sex, or safe/healthy relationships were discussed. As my sex ed class covered no valid information at all, I wish it had covered methods of safe sex, methods of contraception, and had approached it from a scientific and medical standpoint, rather than a religious one. To be frank, religion should have no part of a sex education class. The religious aspect should be a private endeavor taken on by the individual student and the individual student's family.
10. Melissa, 25
11. Ingrid, 24
12. Calista, 26
13. Jenny, 33
I feel like actually they just gave us zero specific information? Like, I think they kept it vague so no one's parents would get mad. They never mentioned that you can get pregnant pretty easily from a sloppy pull-out, which I would think would be the first thing you'd want to tell teens.
14. Jackie, 28
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