By Meteor Blades | 6 June 2017
High teen pregnancy rates are usually associated with lower levels of education and poverty. But new research conducted by Dr. Julie DeCesare of the University of Florida’s OB-GYN residency program in Pensacola has shown that’s not all that’s going on. While national rates of teen pregnancy have fallen, they’ve fallen much less in Texas. DeCesare and her co-authors found that in the Dallas and San Antonio areas, teen pregnancy rates are 50 percent and 40 percent respectively above the national average.
Federal funding for abstinence-only programs began in 1982 with a small amount of money for the Adolescent Family Life Act. But with passage of welfare reform in 1996, these programs exploded despite a steady stream of evidence from studies showing they are ineffective and leave out information crucial to young people’s health. The feds have poured $1.5 billion into these failed programs over the past two decades.
Under an amendment to Title V of the Social Security Act, eight parameters for federally funded abstinence-only programs state their “exclusive purpose [must be] teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity” and that each must teach “that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of sexual activity.”
Numerous studies show this approach is a snare and delusion. Obviously, teens who don’t have sex don’t get pregnant. But abstinence-only programs don’t stop them from having sex or from getting pregnant. About half of teenagers nationwide say they have had sexual intercourse.
One approach does have a significant effect, according to numerous studies. Example: In 2008, Pamela Kohler and other researchers studied the National Survey of Family Growth on the impact of sex education on sexual risk-taking by young people ages 15-19. They found that teens who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to become pregnant than those who received abstinence-only education. That doesn’t mean they aren’t having sex, just that a large percentage of them have taken to heart what they have learned from accurate education about it.
Given that every member of Congress who voted for the law and the funding that goes with it—and every legislator who voted to impose abstinence-only education in public schools—was once a teenager familiar with the call of the hormones, you would think that they would know better than to think this don’t-have-sex-until-you’re-married approach would actually work. And you would also think that they would understand that teaching abstinence-only without providing information about contraception would not reduce teenage pregnancy rates. Some of these politicians have wised up over the years.
Not in Texas, however.
Lauren Silverman reports:
Research shows teens everywhere are having sex, with about half of high school students saying they’ve had sexual intercourse. Gwen Daverth, CEO of the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, says the high numbers in Texas reflect policy, not promiscuity.
“What we see is there are not supports in place,” Daverth says. “We’re not connecting high-risk youth with contraception services. And we’re not supporting youth in making decisions to be abstinent.” The state needs to emulate more progressive policies found in other states, she says.
For instance, in South Carolina and parts of North Carolina, young women on Medicaid who have babies are given the chance to get long-acting birth control right after they give birth. Colorado subsidizes long-acting birth control. California has funded comprehensive sex education programs in public schools since 1991. By 2012, that had cut the teen pregnancy rate in the state by 74 percent.
In 2004, then-Rep. Henry Waxman released a scathing report on the leading abstinence-only curriculum that met the federal government’s parameters. The program underestimated the effectiveness of condoms and other contraceptives in preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, misinformed students about the incidence of transmission of STIs, lied about the physical and psychological risks of abortion, substituted religious views and moral judgment for scientific facts, and distorted medical evidence.
In Texas, the majority of public schools still teach abstinence-only or provide zero sex education. And the results are predictable and frequently devastating to the young women who get pregnant and their families. This seems to make no never-mind to politicians and the narrow-minded citizens who have fought to keep this approach operative in the face of a continuing stream of studies showing what a rotten failure it is.
The Cognitive Case Against Abstinence-Only Education
Sex Education: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
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