Sexual education in American schools has largely been geared towards preventing teen pregnancy and halting the spread of sexually transmitted infections. Multiple studies point to the psychological, social, and economic toll that giving birth at a young age can have on young women, so it makes sense it's a priority.
To some, however, the answer to the teen pregnancy epidemic is telling kids to keep it in their pants until they're married. Dozens of studies have shown this method just doesn't work, but abstinence-only sex ed programs continue to be rolled out in schools across the country. In spite of this, something is working out there (ahem, birth control), and new, low statistics on teen pregnancy are here to prove it.
Back in 1957, there were 96 births per 1,000 young women aged 15-19. In 1996, the teenage birth rate was 54.7 for every 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19. Save for an uptick between 1988 and 1991, the numbers have continued to drop in every racial group surveyed to rest comfortably below the 50 mark. New research published in The Journal of Adolescent Health reveals why this is the case, and what the government can do to continue this downward trend. These are five notable facts about teen pregnancy in America:
1. Contraception Use Has Improved
Sorry, abstinence-only educators, but it's not a drop in teen sex that's causing a drop in teen pregnancy. Researchers at the Guttmacher Institute and Columbia University noted that "improvement in contraceptive use" is actually the reason why young women aren't becoming pregnant at the rates they once were. Between 1995 and 2012, contraception use increased from 66 percent to 86 percent, and use of multiple methods of contraception increased from 11 percent to 37 percent.
2. It's Not Just The Pill That Has Caused A Drop In Teen Pregnancy
Although hormonal birth control pills are often the easiest to procure as a young person, there isn't one method that stands out as the sole teen pregnancy antidote, according to the study. In fact, some teens are combining methods, and using birth control pills, IUDs, implants, and condoms in tandem with one another for heightened protection. Without any method at all, there is an 85 percent chance of pregnancy.
3. The U.S. Is Behind Many Other Countries In Teen Pregnancy Rates
Although teen pregnancy rates are declining, the United States is still far behind other developed countries. In 2011, the U.S. rate of 52 pregnancies per 1,000 teens age 15-19 was more than six times as high as Switzerland at eight pregnancies per 1,000 teens, and more than twice as high as France at 25 pregnancies per 1,000 teens. Both countries are known for comprehensive sexual education that begins in early childhood, so it's no surprise that their young people grow up with more knowledge about preventing unintended pregnancy.
4. Abstinence-Only Sex Ed Doesn't Prevent Pregnancy
It's heartening to have one more study that plainly states how ineffective and even dangerous abstinence-only sex ed can be. "Abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated effectiveness in changing adolescent sexual behavior or in reducing teen pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections," write the authors, and yet, the percentage of young people receiving this kind of limited education has increased. This is likely to change if President Obama has anything to say about it, however.
5. Education About Contraception Is Crucial
The main takeaway from the study is that education has a huge impact on teen pregnancy. Even though there are plenty of teens stuck with abstinence-only sex ed programs, they at least have the internet to provide answers their teachers or parents otherwise might not offer them. "Since contraceptive use is the critical driver of adolescent fertility, it is important to ensure adolescents’ access to comprehensive sexuality education that provides medically accurate information about contraception," explain the study authors. The facts are clear, so now it's up to the American government to do something about it.
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