Teen Pregnancy Surges
Study: 10-Year Decline in Teen Pregnancy Ends
"It really shows you we have the technology to decrease teen pregnancy, and we are really not doing what we need to do," she says. "The adults in the U.S. want to blame the kids, the media, when in fact we are not doing what is needed to prevent teen pregnancy."
What is needed? Tortolero says we have to get over the idea that having the "talk" just one time is enough.
"We have this idea that sexual health is just one conversation with a child, where in other countries with much lower teen pregnancy rates it is an ongoing conversation throughout their lives," she says. "We have effective programs that work but the schools aren't using them. And the other thing is access to contraception."
That latter point is reflected in the Guttmacher calculation that a sexually active teen who does not use contraceptives has a nine in 10 chance of becoming pregnant within a year.
Wouldn't abstinence education help? Tortolero and Finer agree that it does. But both say that sexual behavior is changed only by comprehensive sex education that includes abstinence education, and not by abstinence education alone.
Not so, says Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, which advocates abstinence education.
"If you are looking at school-based programs, the primary mode of sex education, abstinence education has stronger results than any comprehensive education," Huber tells WebMD. "And our survey shows that in every topic area -- whether it is how contraception is discussed, discerning healthy and unhealthy relationships, receiving skills for setting future goals -- parents supported abstinence education and the way we present it over comprehensive education."
Huber says abstinence education includes education about contraception but emphasizes delaying initiation of sexual activity. And she says comprehensive education gives short shrift to abstinence -- the best way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
Finer and Tortolero say comprehensive sex education is more effective at promoting abstinence than abstinence education. And Finer says abstinence education focuses on contraceptive failure rates but does not teach correct use of contraceptives.