A new study conducted by the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the sex rate for young people is dropping. The research indicates that 27% of males and 29% of females aged between 15 and 24 have never had any kind of sexual experience. Predictably, the results show the highest statistics for abstaining are for those aged below 17, with 58% of girls and 53% of boys aged between 15-17 never having experienced any kind of sex.
This news has understandably got everyone talking. John Santelli, a pediatrician and senior fellow at the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health said, “I’m impressed with the younger generation…. I see a generation of adolescents who are very concerned about making the right life choices — trying to take care of their health, trying to take care of their responsibilities in school. Perhaps this data reflects that.” Shine.com even hopefully notes that “virginity is making a comeback.”
You can make every statistic fit whatever agenda you’re pushing. I think that these stats makes the picture of teen sex in America look a little too rosy. It gives the impression that teenagers are making informed decisions about having (or not having) sex, and are thus choosing against not to rush into anything. But they aren’t. If they were making educated decisions about sex, then the teen pregnancy rate would not have increased for the first time in more than a decade in 2006, and the United States would not have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world, more than double the rate of Canada.
Interestingly, this increase in teen pregnancy coincided with an increase in teens only being taught about abstinence at school. The Guttmacher Institute note that around 2006, about one in four adolescents received abstinence education only, with no information about birth control, compared with 8% of teens who only received abstinence education in school in 1995. They note that currently, a total of 36 states require that sex education include abstinence. Twenty-seven states require that abstinence be stressed. In contrast, only 19 states require sex education programs to include contraception information, and no states mandate that this information be stressed to students. That’s why, in my opinion, we need to focus more on sex education and contraception, rather than just abstinence education, both in schools and at home.
For a start, teaching abstinence education only, isolates those who are going to have sex regardless. Where are they going to get the information that they need to keep them safe and prevent pregnancy, if they have no source of information readily available to them? My school teachers often used to say, if you don’t know what you’re doing, then you aren’t ready to be doing it. But at the same time, if you have never been told that unprotected sex could result in STI’s then how are you meant to know to protect yourself from it?
Also creating a major taboo about sex and talking about it, creates an environment where people aren’t going to try and access the information, because of embarrassment or fear from telling their parents. That is frightening, considering that 41% of 18 and 19 year old’s surveyed report that they know little or nothing about condoms and 75% say they know little or nothing about the contraceptive pill. Perhaps this is why every year in this country, roughly nine million new STIs occur among teens and young adults.
A common argument against teaching about contraception in school, is that it should be up to the parent to decide when they want their kids to hear about sex, and in the meantime, schools should be teaching about the joys of abstinence. That’s crap. I don’t buy the ‘they need to be protected from this sort of stuff as they’re too young’ argument, that’s like saying ‘I don’t want my kids to drown, so I’m not going to teach them how to swim.’ It is practically impossible to live a day in this society without being subjected to something sex related, from song lyrics, clothing billboards, magazines, TV shows, and even the news, so it’s pretty stupid to think that a modern teenager doesn’t have even a clue about sex. Just being given access to information about sex doesn’t mean that you are condoning your child having sex, and it doesn’t mean that once you tell them the truth they are going to become rampant sex fiends.
Besides, how many times do you hear parent’s on the news saying that ‘they never knew’ what their child was up to? How many of the parent’s on shows like ’16 and Pregnant’ admitted that they had no clue that their child was even having sex? Isn’t it better to have sex education taught in schools rather than just waiting for parents who often times are kept in the dark about what their kids are doing?
And anyway, how many teenagers actually listen to their parents? And how awkward is the ‘sex talk’ going to be sitting down with your parents? I know- much more awkward than sitting in a classroom of 20 other people, with teachers who have proper information and who don’t try to start up the talk over the dinner table.
What do you think; is it time we stop ignoring the statistics and make access to contraception information easier to reach for adolescents? Or is it easier to ignore the facts, and act shocked when teenagers come home from school with a baby or an STI?