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Teen Pregnancy Is a Public Health Issue, Not a Political One!

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Dr. Michelle Golland: The story about first graders possibly getting condoms in Massachusetts showed, yet again, how the issue of sex education in our country has become politicized in such a ridiculous way that we lose sight of the importance of informing our children about their sexuality and reproductive health. This issue should not be placed in the Liberal vs. Conservative category. Rather, it squarely falls within "public health."

Pregnant teenage girl

Teen pregnancy is a public health issue that should cause us all a great deal of concern. The problem is that when we look at it with a religious or political view, too many people arm themselves with "family values" and claim that they don't want our public schools to address these "value" decisions. Unfortunately, birth control and teen pregnancy aren't "value" issues. They're very critical issues of child development. 

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world. The following statistics clearly show how we are failing our teenagers with the ineffective and inconsistent messages we are giving them regarding their sexuality and reproduction:

France, Germany, Sweden and Canada do a far better job reducing teen pregnancies. Per every 1,000 women aged 15 to 19, the annual pregnancy rates are as follows:
United States -- 72.2
France -- 25.7
Germany -- 18.8
Canada -- 16.3

The estimated public cost for teen pregnancy in the United States is between $6 and $9 billion a year. Eighty percent of teen moms here are on some form of public assistance. Seven out of ten teen mothers are unlikely to receive prenatal care, which of course has great negative health impacts for their children. Aside from the health risks, kids born to teen mothers are at greater risk for emotional and physical abuse, especially if there is no family support. These kids are also at higher risk of having emotional and academic problems later in life. Another startling statistic? Baby boys of teen mothers are at an increased risk for incarceration later in their lives, while girls born to teens are more likely to become teen moms themselves.

We know that comprehensive sex education works when it comes to curbing the teen pregnancy epidemic. It's what other industrialized countries offer, and it's why they have been able to dramatically decrease their rates of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion.

We Americans must move past the archaic view that teen pregnancy is about religion and family values, and wake up to the reality that this close-minded approach has resulted in devastating consequences for our young people.

First, we must achieve a social and cultural consensus that sexuality is a normal and healthy part of being human, and that, for many, sexual intercourse is part of the teen experience. (By age 16, 40 percent of Americans have had sexual intercourse.) Religious zealots and naive parents simply cannot ignore that this is happening. Our teens are not going to stop having sex.

Ways to Improve Adolescent Sexual Health

  • Use sound research as the basis for public health policies about teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and reproduction. Political and religious groups should have LITTLE influence on this public health issue.
  • Create a national desire to reduce the number of abortions and prevent sexually transmitted diseases
  • Ensure easy access to contraception and condoms, consistent sex education and widespread public education campaigns.
  • Encourage government support of massive, consistent, long-term public education campaigns through the Internet, television, films, radio, billboards, pharmacies and health-care providers. The media should be a respected partner in these campaigns.
  • Make sure that sex education in public schools starts in late elementary school and is comprehensive and consistent over the course of children's schooling all the way through 12th grade. Ideally, educators should provide accurate and complete information about contraception options, abstinence and all health-related issues. Emotional and relational issues should be discussed as well.

We must stop with the hysterical responses in the media and address the real issue about teen pregnancy in our country. The ramifications are far greater than the simple argument that some parents don't want their kids taught about sex at school.

We are dealing with a real crisis in our country, and I believe that the response of "family values" has been used to hijack this issue in a destructive and ignorant manner. We as a country obviously (given our horrible teen pregnancy statistics) can't rely on parents to do the educating that is so clearly needed.

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10 comments so far | Post a comment now
Matt July 1, 2010, 2:18 PM

“If you could reason with religious people then there would be no religious people” -Greg House. Finally someone on this website can think clearly about sex education without quoting the bible or spewing garbage about family values. I should say I have no problem with my son having sex as long as he does it safely (he is a sophomore in high school). Is it just me or does anyone else realize that the most teens that get pregnant are the ones who’s parents use abstinence only sex ed(thats actually an oxymoron I apologize)? As for the parents who want to teach their child abstinence only should be aloud, but don’t make others children suffer because you don’t like what they teach. Just like you don’t want your child learning about sex, others might not want their child learning to abstain.

Kristen July 1, 2010, 4:49 PM

LOVED THIS ARTICLE!! Finally someone with common sense. Kids need sex education AND access to the items that prevent those things.

Kristen July 1, 2010, 4:50 PM

LOVED THIS ARTICLE!! Finally someone with common sense. Kids need sex education AND access to the items that prevent pregnancy.

Kristen July 1, 2010, 4:50 PM

LOVED THIS ARTICLE!! Finally someone with common sense. Kids need sex education AND access to the items that prevent pregnancy.

tennmom July 1, 2010, 6:23 PM

It is not just you, Matt. When I was in high school and now as an adult there seem to be more teen pregnancies in the “don’t you dare have sex” households than in the “let’s discuss birth control” households. Telling a teen not to have sex…Does Not Keep Them From Having Sex.

Matt July 2, 2010, 2:22 AM

Seriously Joe wtf is wrong with you? If this that was meant to be a joke, it’s not funny at all. So off is the general direction in which I would like you to fck

Anon  July 2, 2010, 7:37 AM

dumb girls that can’t say no

Anonymous July 3, 2010, 3:42 AM

1st graders are not teenagers. big difference. maybe we should teach 1st graders about fisting like they ALSO did in massachusetts

elnormo July 3, 2010, 12:44 PM

Canada is pretty similar to the US in many ways, especially in regard to media culture. So why is Canada’s teen pregnancy rate so much lower?

chris July 7, 2010, 7:12 AM

I resent the fact that you seem to have a problem with parents teaching their children about “family values”. I grew up in a big Italian family, raised as a catholic and knew from a very young age that the worst thing I could do is get pregant outside of marriage and you know what, none of my 4 sibling or myself did! Even though we all lost our virginity before marrige, we all went to planned parenthood and got the protection that we needed to prevent pregency and/or stds (even w/out the “talk” from our parents b/c 30 yrs ago kids didn’t usually get “the talk”)but we knew that we couldn’t get pregant! I have 2 children that I have talked to about sex more than most parents do and they also are being taught that I don’t want any grandbabies until they are married. They know that I don’t expect them to stay virgins until they are married, in fact I’m encouraging them to wait until after college, careers and hopefully traveling and just enjoying life before setttling down so it wouldn’t be practical to expect them to wait. As parents, it is are job to lay the foundition for our children and having family values is a big part of that. Sex education is very important and I have no problem with schools educating our children but I do have a big problem with the school not allowing parents opt out if they are not comfortable with their children learning it in school for whatever their reason is. It’s funny how the more exposed kids are today about everything sexual, the younger our girls are getting pregant. I think most of the problem lays with parents who don’t teach their children good “family value”. We live into a society where everyone just believes “Oh it’s 2010, everything is acceptable now” and that’s what are kids are learning too.

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