Not a one-sided conversation: Abstinence vs sex education
Pregnancy and abortion rates have plunged to less than a quarter and it’s not because teenagers are choosing to not have sex. The lower rates have bolstered a call to use long-term contraceptives on the rising rate of sexually active teens.
The issue with this notion is that it glazes over the issue with children having sex at such an early age. Abstinence is dying, and sex education needs to be reformed.
“It would be hard for America to do a sex education reform. We can’t even get an education reform for grade school,” said political science senior Andrea Segovia.
“To even focus on sex education alone would probably take years.”
With a weak sex education program, America’s youth isn’t as informed about abstinence, safer sex and making better decisions when it comes to sex.
According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the Contraceptive CHOICE Project was designed to promote the use of long-acting, reversible contraceptive methods to reduce the rates of unintended pregnancies in the St. Louis region. Eligible participants were administered the long-term contraceptive and were followed up for two or three years after receiving it.
The debate now is a political and cultural conversation on whether or not teenagers should be encouraged by their physicians to abstain from sex rather than to use long-term contraception. Although the long-term contraceptive has significantly lowered pregnancy and abortion rates, its not something that should be adopted universally.
“Any form of birth control is good, especially if its lowering unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates,” said political science senior Tatiana Lutomski.
“We definitely should not be replacing sex education (with) birth control.”
There will be plenty of pushback from supporters of the long-term contraception as debaters use ideological and personal opinions as leverage.
On the other hand, a study from Washington University in St. Louis found that about 18 percent of sexually active teenagers have had an abortion before. Teenagers who weren’t using any form of birth control or were using withdrawal or condoms sat at 60 percent.
According to the study, the yearly pregnancy rate was 34 per 1,000 teenagers. In 2008, the pregnancy and abortion rates were at 158.5 percent and 41.5 percent, and the study also found that teenagers who used long-acting methods tended to stick with them longer.
Pediatricians are going to be practical. Knowing and understanding that many teenagers are going to choose to be sexually active and engage in risky behavior, they will likely be supportive of new approaches with safety and effectiveness data.
While it may be more beneficial for teens to use long-term contraceptives, there may also be another unlikely factor in play. There’s been discussion that the unlikely influence of MTV’s “16 and Pregnant” might also have some impact on the declining unwanted pregnancy and abortion rates.
According to CNN, the MTV hit played a role in encouraging teenagers to practice safer sex. The continuously declining birth rate has been dropping steadily at an average of 2.5 percent each passing year, but in the last four years, that number has increased at a rate of 7.5 percent per year.
A study done by the National Bureau of Economic Research said that “16 and Pregnant” led to a 5.7 percent reduction in teenage births in the 18 months following the premiere of the MTV reality television series.
Shows like “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” can serve to deter teenagers from engaging in unsafe sex, by showing the negative effects it can have on a teen’s life.
“I definitely think it might help teenagers by showing viewers how and why having a child will affect the rest of you life forever,” said public relations senior Christina Nemry.
“A better alternative would be a better sex education.”
In today’s media consumption behavior, reality series “16 and Pregnant” or “Teen Mom” just might be doing that for the nation’s youth already.
“Educating children at a young age and helping them understand sex and the consequences,” Nemry said. “This is something that should be happening both in schools and at home.”
Geographic data analysis correlated higher search activity and tweets about “16 and Pregnant” with higher levels of search and tweets about birth control and abortion.
However, the safest form of sex is not having any at all. Informing and educating our youth and teaching them about responsibility and making safe decisions will have a greater impact on their behavior both short-term and long-term.
Abstinence is the only method that is 100 percent and risk-free, but it may not be something we can expect from today’s American youth.
“It’s the responsibility of the American education system and of parents to educate the pre-teens and teenagers,” Nemry said. “It should not be a completely one-sided conversation.”
Opinion columnist Gemrick Curtom is a public relations senior and may be reached at [email protected].