Breaking: Teens who get accurate information about sex make better decisions about sex

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.

17 comments for “Breaking: Teens who get accurate information about sex make better decisions about sex

  1. May 4, 2012 at 2:04 pm

    In the UK, our children have more sex education and at an earlier age than anywhere else in Europe, and we have the highest teen pregnancy rate in Europe. Perhaps there’s a correlation here?

    don’t get me wrong – I’m broadly supportive of your point. I just don’t see why in the UK sex education has to start with under-10 kids for any other reason than the Frankfurt School’s avowed goal of sexualising children as a means to deconstruct traditional families.

  2. Arkady
    May 4, 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Gerry, do you have any info on the past 10 years of sex ed in the UK? In my day (secondary school 1997-2002) we had a handful of ‘what’s going to happen to your body during puberty’ lessons, and a grand total of ONE sex ed class at age 13, divided by gender and given by a doctor. With a limitation of an hour it was mostly limited to a vague description of how to use condoms (didn’t even bother with the usual putting it on a vegetable demonstration) plus a few samples of caps and femidoms and descriptions of IUDs.

    Being a largely middle-class school (despite being state comprehensive) they mostly just relied on parents passing on info/kids being savvy enough to work it out for themselves. There were only 2 pregnancies that I knew of in the school, one in my older sister’s year and one of a 13 year-old younger sister of someone I knew.

    Also, sex ed often gets lumped in with biology-of-puberty stuff, so in many cases it would be useful if they started this stuff before secondary school. I started periods at primary school aged 11, the ‘puberty’ lessons were more than a year later. Thankfully my interest in biology meant I knew what periods were before they started…

  3. Past my expiration date
    May 4, 2012 at 2:36 pm

    I just don’t see why in the UK sex education has to start with under-10 kids for any other reason than the Frankfurt School’s avowed goal of sexualising children as a means to deconstruct traditional families.

    I didn’t know that Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse were in charge of government educational policy in the UK?! Drat: further confirmation that I live under a rock.

  4. May 4, 2012 at 2:37 pm

    Gerry, if sex education includes the biology of menstruation, you’re going to want kids to get that under age ten because a good number of girls go through menarche before age 10. It’s unwise to count on them getting it at home; I dated a woman whose menarche was at age 9, and her mother was a school nurse, and she got no explanation at all, just, “you’re woman now. Here’s a box of pads.”

    Is there something in the UK curriculum specifically taught to children under ten that you take issue with, or are you just hoping that the proximity of the words “under-10 kids” and “sex” will shock us all into reflexively agreeing with you?

  5. May 4, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    Gerry’s comment put me in mind of a recent furor in Ontario when a sex ed curriculum was proposed that would start as young as grade one. Everyone heard ‘Grade One’ and ‘Sex ed’ and freaked the fuck out , but if you actually looked at the curriculum, it was kept very age appropriate, and a nice change from the grade-seven one-shot that kids seemed to get at my age.

    Of course, pearl-clutching parents had their way and the new curriculum was shelved for the time being. Which is too bad, it sounded great as would touch on things link gender identity, sexual orientation and things other than just PIV intercourse… in age-appropriate manners.

    I wrote about it a while back:

  6. FD
    May 4, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Not to mention that Gerry Dorrian is factually incorrect, in that the UK doesn’t actually have comprehensive and compulsory sex ed – compulsory basic human reproductive biology in National Curriculum science lessons in secondary schools yes, (ages 11 and up, usually 13+) actual sex ed, no. There is guidance offered to state schools on the content of PSHE lessons, but it is not compulsory. Citizenship is statutory, but sex ed is not.
    Furthermore, faith schools, and ‘free’ schools set their own policies on this, and parents at any school can withdraw children from sex ed lessons entirely even in those schools that offer them – right up to the age of 16, which means that it is perfectly possible that teens are essentially getting no sex ed at all, never mind the pre-teens. See here for a run down on the facts:

    I suspect that the first poster has read one of the shock leaflets promulgated by (Christian, anti-abortion campaign group sponsored) MP Nadine Dorries and her ilk, when recently trying to get a bill for compulsory abstinence education for girls passed. It was suggested by Dorries in Parliament during the discussion that seven year olds were being taught how to put condoms on – a suggestion that turned out to be a wilful misrepresentation of the facts.

  7. Katya
    May 4, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    I had “sex ed” in grade school. It covered basic human anatomy and what happened to your body during puberty. Not a word about contraceptives or anything like that (actual sex ed came in junior high, when we learned about sex, pregnancy, and watched the horror film The Miracle of Life, which I’m sure delayed sex, among the girls at least, by a couple of years). And this was in a Catholic grade school. Totally age-appropriate and not at all sexualizing. Kids should have accurate information about their bodies. Period. Sex ed isn’t just about STDs and condoms–it should be truly comprehensive, including biology and anatomy, the potential physical and emotional consequences of sex, safe sex and consent, and healthy relationships. It should give kids as many of the tools as possible to make healthy decisions about their bodies.

  8. Karen
    May 4, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Here’s the funny thing about sex ed: kids will seek out this information. And MTV seems to be providing it to kids these days.

    When I was a student at a Catholic university that preached no-sex-before-marriage, no-contraception-for-you, and had the student health policies to back it up, I learned all about sex from Dan Savage. So I learned about BDSM, kinks, and threesomes before I learned more basic information about preventing pregnancy, UTIs, and vibrators.

    My question for abstinence-only educators: is this really what you intended when you refused to distribute condoms at freshmen orientation?

  9. im
    May 4, 2012 at 11:29 pm

    Guy speaking here.

    The sex ed I got initially went into a reasonable amount of data on the biologicals, but because they did not even say that desire _existed_ or what the word actually _meant_. And so the word remained for me something that appeared in the rationale for movie ratings.
    Considering that this was in 5th grade and a fair number of teens do at least some romantic or sexual experimentation in middle school, that’s a big problem.

    At least they said (IIRC) that gay people exist.

  10. Angie unduplicated
    May 5, 2012 at 8:26 am

    Chattanooga TV reports that local dimwit parents are upset because HIV prevention was taught in third grade. Since used meedles can be found in public parks, and in many student homes, that’s really not a day too soon.
    I see women with two or more children before age 20 who have asked for sterilization and have been told “Too young. Come back later”. The fact that teen births are declining and that sex ed and access to condoms is working: YES! Neocons will deny that sex ed prevents the abortions they detest, will deny that knowledge and not ignorance empowers good life decisions, but evidence is here and real.

  11. Angie unduplicated
    May 5, 2012 at 8:28 am

    Needles. Please forgive me, am quitting coffee and it’s apparently cost me typing and cognitive skills.

  12. Beauzeaux
    May 5, 2012 at 2:35 pm

    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

    Maybe. However, I do think those abstinence-only kids really meant it when they took the pledge. They really meant to stay virgins, but the backseat of a car has a way of focusing one’s attention on the here-and-now. Likewise, I don’t think The Miracle of LIfe was a likely to be much of a deterrent when one’s in a super-heated environment.

  13. May 5, 2012 at 5:28 pm

    Okay, so I’ll admit being in my mid-twenties I’m juuust a few years out of school age, but we had sex-ed for under 10s in the UK when I was a kid, too. It was about puberty, because many kids start puberty at 10. We learned about the basic changes that could be expected, and the girls learned about pads and tampons and how to use them, and we all learned that the entire thing was connected with sex and procreation, but they didn’t go into any details.

    What’s so bad about that?

  14. suspect class
    May 5, 2012 at 8:08 pm

    *trigger warning* childhood sex abuse

    Not to mention that young kids have to be taught some amount of sex ed in order to protect them from sexual abuse. If you don’t know what your body parts are called, and you don’t know you have a right to say no to somebody touching them, or even that some adults try to touch kids, then you’re really vulnerable to a situation where you can’t tell anyone something bad is happening to you.

  15. h
    May 6, 2012 at 6:21 pm

    I remember reading about some study related to porn where the researchers had to shelve the project because they couldn’t find any ten year old boys who had not already seen porn in order to create a control group….Methinks they need sex ed as soon as possible.

    Oh and for the record I started puberty at nine, so twelve or thirteen is way late for some kids.

  16. Ismone
    May 7, 2012 at 11:33 am

    My parents had a book that I found when I was twelve that was a children’s book explaining heterosex and procreation (in a marriage) in child-appropriate (but pretty accurate) terms. I mostly remember that the “husband” had a mustache, which I thought looked funny and vaguely sleazy.

    Every time my mom was pregnant, the book came out. I do not remember it ever being read to me (I would have been three and six the two times it made an appearance in my life) but I do remember having a pretty accurate understanding of sex as a child, and seeing it as “something adults do” and kind of wondering at my classmates’ ignorance on the subject.

    To give some context, my mom is a devout Catholic, and pretty big on the whole “no-sex-before-marriage” thing. Despite that book, or perhaps because of is, we were all (as far as I know) pretty late bloomers in terms of knocking boots, and I don’t think knowing about sex really encouraged us to have it.

    So first grade, imo, isn’t too young even to actually explain sex. I wasn’t traumatized.

  17. May 16, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    Personally I wasn’t thinking of any pro-life leaflets but the whole generation, including people who now make education policy, who were influenced by Herbert Marcuse’s Eros and Civilisation, who attempted to get an abusive sex-education programme constructed by Channel 4 into primary classrooms. This didn’t happen because parents of all and no political and religious orientations kicked up a stink.

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