According to a new report by the California Department of Public Health, the state's teenage pregnancy rate dropped in 2011 to its lowest level since 1991. For every 1,000 teenage girls, 28 children were born, as opposed to the 70.9 average nearly two decades ago.
Anyone want to take a guess as to how this happened?
The unsurprising answer is effective sex education.
Public health experts are certain that the decrease in California's teenage pregnancies can be attributed to state laws that require sex ed classes to teach information about forms of birth control instead of just abstinence. These experts also say that the dwindling numbers are due to community-based family planning programs that are not only "teen-friendly," but also adjust to different cultures.
For example, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy provides Spanish-speaking health care providers who understand Latino culture, since the Latino community in California has the highest rate of teen pregnancies. According to the report, both female and male teenagers who have children are less likely to finish school and more likely to become welfare-dependant.
So, although broadening the sex-ed curriculum has multiple benefits that positively affect health, education, and economic situation, other regions in the U.S. have not taken tips from California on ways to alleviate high rates of teenage pregnancies. This is a significant problem in the South.
Abstinence-only education is the norm in southern U.S. states and provide answers as to why their rates of teenage pregnancies are consistently higher than those in the rest of the country. Courses taught in abstinence-only curricula do not provide students with adequate sexual health information and usually give misleading statistics about birth control. Due to this deceptive information, 60% of young adults undervalue the effect of birth control and are more likely to skip it.
Additionally, because of their lack of access to health clinics due to smaller populations, teenagers in rural areas cannot easily obtain birth control. Even more harmful is the stigma that is attached to the health clinics in rural areas, which are generally more conservative regions.
But that's not all. The states that don't offer broad sex education also have the highest rate of teenage STDs.
It is alarming and outrageous, given this research, that 26 states in the U.S. — the country with the highest rate of teen pregnancies among all developed nations — require abstinence to be taught as the best way to avoid pregnancy. Research shows that abstinence education is likely to deter teenagers from using contraception during sexual activity, therefore doing exactly the opposite of its goal and heightening the risk of pregnancy.
What is also concerning is the much larger part teenage pregnancies play among women. Although we cannot immediately control the sex education we receive in school, we can control and end the negative stigma that is associated with teenage motherhood. Girls who become pregnant as teenagers are ostracized by schools that perform abstinence-only education, which has not proven at all to put an end to teen pregnancies — not to mention the previously-stated fact that teenage pregnancies negatively affect the teenage men involved, too.
The general argument among social conservatives in this country for abstinence-only sex ed is based in the Christian teaching that prohibits sex before marriage. But not only is there no information proving the efficacy of abstinence-only sex ed, this restrictive approach neglects the impact of abstinence education on rates of diseases, welfare dependency, educational disadvantages, and upward mobility. With so many social and economic issues at hand, why are social conservatives being ignorant of the facts?