Where Do Kids Learn About Sex?
Birds, Bees, and Teens
One Million Teen Pregnancies Each Year
Although teen pregnancy and birth rates in the U.S. declined significantly during the 1990s, approximately 1 million American teenage girls still get pregnant each year. That is by far the highest rate of teen pregnancies of any industrialized nation -- and eight out of 10 are unplanned, according to NCPTP figures.
After rising 23% between 1972 and 1990, pregnancies among girls between the ages of 15 and 19 declined 17% between 1990 and 1996. The teen birth rate dropped by 20% between 1991 and 1999, to approximately 50 births per 1,000 young women.
So is the drop in teen pregnancies due to fewer adolescents having sex or to better contraception use among those who are sexually active?
The answer depends on whom you ask. Groups promoting abstinence until marriage say their message is finally getting through, and statistics do suggest fewer teens are having sex than a decade ago. High-profile celebrities who have gone public with their virginity, such as pop singer Jessica Simpson and NBA star A.C. Green, have helped to give the abstinence movement a certain cachet among the young.
"I go to a private school, and the majority of my peers are abstinent," 18-year-old high school junior Nick Reid tells WebMD. "I don't know if you can say that at most public schools, but that may be a gross generalization." Reid, who lives in Nashville, serves on the NCPTP's youth leadership team.
A report from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, the nation's largest nonprofit organization studying reproductive health, suggests three-fourths of the recent decline in pregnancies among teens is due to better contraceptive use and only one-fourth is due to abstinence.
"If people are suggesting that abstinence is the primary reason for the decline in pregnancy rates, that is just not accurate," says Cynthia Dailard, senior policy analyst with the institute. "We see politicians, including the president, pushing abstinence-only education and calling for teens to abstain from sex. But research shows that comprehensive methods of sexual education that discuss methods of contraception, while encouraging teenagers to delay sexual activity, are most effective."