Teens getting all sexed up! Having babies! Getting TV shows! Day care in high schools! Babies right and left! Teen pregnancy is more rampant than ever, right? No?
Despite often-heard concerns about the prevalence and recklessness of teen sex, the teen birth rate in the United States is at an all-time low.
According to a CNN report, “The teenage birth rate in the United States has fallen to a record low in the seven decades since such statistics were last collected. A report released Tuesday by the National Center for Health Statistics showed the teenage birth rate for American teenagers fell 9% from 2009 to 2010. The national level, 34.3 teenage births per 1,000 women between the ages of 15-19, is the lowest since 1946. The rates dropped across all racial and ethnic groups, and nearly all states.”
The report, from the National Center for Health Statistics, doesn’t identify why the numbers are dropping, but researchers attribute it to (among other factors) an increase in contraceptive use and an overall decrease in teen sexual activity.
Another report from the NCHS from last fall shed some light on it. In a survey of teenagers, the study found that among teens who abstained from sex, the main motivation given for doing so was religion or morals. Second and third most common reasons was a fear of pregnancy and not having found the right person yet. Of the teenagers who’d had sex, 78 percent of girls and 85 percent of guys reported using a contraceptive their first time out, and 86 percent of girls and 93 percent of guys reported using it their most recent time, condoms being the preferred method.
Movies and TV shows about teen pregnancy, such as MTV’s “Teen Mom” and “16 and Pregnant” has spread awareness about the issue, [National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy CPO Bill] Albert said. A national survey of teenagers asked whether the shows glamorized teen pregnancies and the majority reported that it had the opposite effect.
For many of my generation, the “Miracle of Life” videos showing a gooey infant emerging from the birth canal like Vin Diesel through a turtleneck to the strains of O Fortuna were enough to delay sex for a good long while. I suppose that that, plus late-night feedings and boyfriends in trucker hats, could do the job for today’s teens.
Albert gives credit to both contraceptive education and abstinence-only education for the decrease in teen births. However, a study released by the University of Georgia last year indicates that abstinence-only education overwhelmingly didn’t correlate to abstinent behavior or reduced teen pregnancy rates, and that states using comprehensive sex ed (addressing both abstinence and birth control) had the lowest teen pregnancy rates. And a 2008 study from the University of Washington showed that teens who receive comprehensive sex education are “half as likely to become parents as those who get none or abstinence-only sex education.” (Just ask the 53 percent of virginity-pledgers who got it on anyway, and the more than 60 percent of those who did it without contraception.)
So if reducing teen pregnancy rates is the goal, it would do the government well to ask if “don’t have sex, and good luck with that” is worth $250 million a year–or if “don’t waste your precious hetero bonding hormones on the wrong person, and good luck with that” isn’t basically the same thing.