Monday, September 1, 2008

Adolescent Sexual Health

John McCain's Vice President pick of Sara Palin has brought the issue of sex education back to the mainstream media. Due to her outside the mainstream stance on the issue, and her teenage daughter recent admittance of being pregnant.

Nate Silver from

The Issue: Sex Education Palin’s Position: Would replace sex-ed programs with abstinence-only programs (source).

America’s Position: A broad consensus around the teaching of sex education has existed for decades, with 85 percent of Americans favoring sex-ed in schools as early as 1985 (source). The numbers appear to have increased since, as a 2004 poll conducted by NPR, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Kennedy School of Government showed that 90 percent of Americans believe that sex education is a “very important” or “somewhat important” part of the school curriculum, whereas only 7 percent believe that sex education should not be taught at all. In the same survey, just 15 percent of Americans supported abstinence-only programs (source).

Conclusion: Palin’s position is far outside of the mainstream.

I want to try to stay away from personal politics though. Palin's daughter's situation will be sure to get too much media play, when it really has no relevance on the general public. Remember Obama's mother had Barack at age 18. The issue at hand is: Does the US have successful sexual education in terms of pregnancy and STIs.

Advocates for Youth site statistics from the late 90s:

(the following points were from respected journals complied by the Guttmacher Institute)

• Between 1995 and 2002, the number of teens aged 15–17 who had ever engaged in sexual intercourse declined 10%.[2]
• Of the approximately 750,000 teen pregnancies that occur each year, 82% are unintended. More than one-quarter end in abortion. [3]
• The pregnancy rate among U.S. women aged 15–19 has declined steadily—from 117 pregnancies per 1,000 women in 1990 to 75 per 1,000 women in 2002.[4]

• Approximately 14% of the decline in teen pregnancy between 1995 and 2002 was due to teens’ delaying sex or having sex less often, while 86% was due to an increase in sexually experienced teens’ contraceptive use.[5]
• Despite years of evaluation in this area, there is no evidence to date that abstinence-only education delays teen sexual activity. Moreover, recent research shows that abstinence-only strategies may deter contraceptive use among sexually active teens, increasing their risk of unintended pregnancy and STIs.[30]
So the conclusion I have come to is that we are seeing some nice declines, but we have a ways to go to catch up with other countries. There are a ton of statistics we can analyze on this one but there isn't much debate on this issue in the medical community:

Proponents of comprehensive sex education, which include the
American Psychological Association,[23] the American Medical Association,[24] the National Association of School Psychologists,[25] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[26] the American Public Health Association,[27] the Society for Adolescent Medicine[28] and the American College Health Association,[28] argue that sexual behavior after puberty is a given, and it is therefore crucial to provide information about the risks and how they can be minimized; they also claim that denying teens such factual information leads to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

The point is we are biologically wired to want to have sex after puberty - Darwian evolution support this. It is biologically natural, it is just not socially natural. It's just sad that comprehensive sex education is an issue in this country.

*UPDATE* - USA Today had an article this week about the same topic i have this nice chart on the small uptick of teen pregnancy. (See figure at top of page)

*UPDATE 2* NY Times Op-Ed piece chimes in. 'There are 400,000 other unwed teenage mothers in the U.S. right now, the highest per capita rate among developed countries.'

1 comment:

allovertheeowl said...

Anyone who advocates no sex education or abstinence only sex education is an idiot.

You are right - sex is a natural instinct that's hardwired into our brains. No amount of religion or morality can suppress that urge.

Instead of pretending children and teens don't have sexual urges we should educate them about the risks - STDs, pregnancy, etc. The approach shouldn't be to deny a natural human instinct - rather it should be to encourage safer sex through use of contraceptives.

It's interesting that you compare birth/abortion rates of the US with other countries. It reminded me of another issue which I think would show a similar trend - alcohol and alcoholism.