Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Maybe We Should Rethink This Whole "Abstinence-Only" Education, Y'all....

In case you missed it, the results of a landmark study by the CDC were released this week. The study had some really interesting numbers - and there was both good news and bad news:

  • Good News: The birth rate for U.S. teenagers fell 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, to 34.3, the lowest level ever reported in the seven decades. Additionally, the birth rates went down for all but three states (Montana, North Dakota, and West Virginia)
  • Bad News: The Bible Belt continues to lead the nation in birth rates. Thirteen states have over 40 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19; of those 13 states, 5 of them have over 50 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19. The chart below (from the CDC report) reflects these numbers:

The chart above shows that teen birthrates are highest in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, and New Mexico. There are slightly lower concentrations in the neighboring states of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and Arizona. What is disconcerting is the marked geographic differences between the Bible Belt and the rest of the country. For instance, the New England region has the lowest birth rates overall, led by New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.

In order to understand the study a bit better a read a news story that summarizes and explains the report in a succinct and easily digestible way. The article, "U.S. Teen Birthrates Are Down, But Still High in These States" in The Atlantic Cities (by Richard Florida). Mr. Florida and a colleague of his did a bit of background work, and reviewed one of the underlying studies used to formulate the CDC's information. The results were telling:

Teenage births remain high in more religious states. The correlation between teenage birthrates and the percentage of adults who say they are “very religious” is considerable (.69). The 2009 study posited that attitudes toward contraception play a significant role, noting that "religious communities in the U.S. are more successful in discouraging the use of contraception among their teenagers than they are in discouraging sexual intercourse itself."
Teen birthrates also hew closely to America’s political divide. They are substantially higher in conservative states that voted for McCain in 2008 (with a correlation of .65) and negatively correlated with states that voted for Obama (-.62).

**Emphasis mine --AY

(By the way, I'm not going to touch on the political observation - at least not today ;)  )

I strongly believe that the part of the quote I emphasized is directly the result of the "teach abstinence not contraception" trend in Southern high schools. I've seen this first-hand, very recently. One of my kids, who is a freshman, has been learning sex education in health class recently. The handouts from the class included a bunch of pamphlets on Sex Ed. - one of STDs, one on teen pregnancy, etc. The telling thread running through all of the pamphlets is that they all taught about abstinence as a method for preventing all of these things - and that was the only method covered, including the one on STDs. I asked my kid if contraception and prevention was discussed at all, and the reply was a resounding NO.

No wonder our beloved Deep South has the highest birthrates in the nation.

Now don't get me wrong, I am perfectly fine with teaching abstinence. In fact, I encourage it. I honestly don't know of a parent who doesn't preach "abstinence is the best decision" to their kids day in and day out. But, we should also face reality. Most teens today have sex before they are out of high school. I'm not condoning this - it's just the way it is. The highest pregnancy rates are among the most religious because of the "abstinence only" teaching. We have to accept the cold truth that, eventually, virtually all teen's hormones win out over what they're taught, no matter how "pure they are in thoughts and deeds" otherwise. Plus, everyone should know about ways to prevent unwanted pregnancies, even if they do wait until marriage - so that they're not parents until they are ready to be parents. Unwanted pregnancies can happen in, or out, of wedlock - and contraceptives are the best way to prevent them, period.

I also believe that if your teen is as pure and pious as you've taught them to be, then learning about contraception isn't going to do any harm anyway. Let's get real - a condom never convinced someone to have sex, just like a beer never convinced someone to have a drink and a gun never convinced someone to commit murder. It takes a willing person to do all of these things.

I don't want to hear that "I don't want my teen to learn about contraception because sex is dirty" crap. That's ridiculous. Sex is the most beautiful act there is when it's between two people who love each other. And if you teach THAT to your teen, then - once again - teaching them about contraception isn't going to turn them into promiscuous tramps.

Incidentally, I learned about contraception when I was young. And yes, I eventually did become sexually active before I graduated high school. But, I never caught a STD, and I was married 6 years before my wife and I had our first child. Why didn't we have them earlier? Two reasons:
  1. We wanted to wait until we were emotionally and financially ready to have children, and;
  2. Because we knew about contraceptives, and how to use them.
So, Southerners, let's try to get our birthrates down and in line with, or lower than, the national average. Let's show the rest of the country that Southerners, even the religious ones, can do the right thing and be practical. Let's all teach our teens that abstinence is absolutely the best course of action; but until you're ready to have children use contraception - no matter when you engage in sex.

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