Where Do Kids Learn About Sex?
Birds, Bees, and Teens
One Million Teen Pregnancies Each Year continued...
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
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."
Abstinence vs. Contraception
As a presidential candidate, George W. Bush repeatedly
expressed his support for abstinence-only school-based programs, saying a top
administration priority would be to "elevate abstinence education from an
afterthought to an urgent goal." In a speech delivered in July 1999,
candidate Bush said, "It seems like to me the contraceptive message sends a
contradictory message. It tends to undermine the message of
The comments appear to contradict the findings of the nation's
top public and private health organizations. A National Institutes of Health
report, published in 1997, called sexual abstinence a desirable objective, but
added that, "programs must include instruction in safer sex behavior,
including condom use." The American Academy of Pediatrics weighed in on the
issue in a report published early in 2001, noting that "all adolescents
should be counseled about the correct and consistent use of latex condoms to
reduce the risk of infection."
And a newly released NCPTP study evaluating sex education
programs found that education efforts that discuss contraception use do not
hasten the onset of sex, increase the frequency of sex, nor increase the number
of sexual partners among teens. Likewise, making condoms and other
contraceptives available in schools does not hasten or increase sexual
activity, the report concluded.
A survey of parents, conducted last year by the Henry J. Kaiser
Family Foundation, found that four out of five agreed that information about
contraceptives should be included in school-based sex education programs. The
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy survey found that more than 90% of
adults and teens said a strong abstinence message is important, but 69% of
adults and 67% of teens said it was also important to teach contraception.