Of course, abstinence is the ideal method for teen-agers to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, but a major report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy indicates that other methods -- including sex education -- also work to reduce teen pregnancy. Contrary to the belief of many conservatives, sex education does not encourage kids to experiment. Rather, the right programs discourage it.
Despite current declining rates of teen pregnancy, more than four in 10 teen-age girls still get pregnant at least once before they turn 20. And no matter what parents may hope, the NCPTP study indicates that about two-thirds of all students have sex before graduating from high school. Of particular concern are the one in four sexually experienced teens who contract an STD each year, including life-threatening HIV.
Unfortunately, abstinence-only programs are reminiscent of barn doors being closed after the horses have escaped. Thus, successful programs for preventing teen pregnancy cannot be an abstinence-only or nothing proposition. The approach must not be either/or, but rather both/and.
Punishment or prevention? If the goal is preventing teen pregnancy not punishing young women, the politicians who control funding must recognize that the one-size-fits-all program doesn't work any more than one shoe size fits all.
Of the reasons that teens do get pregnant, careless sexual behavior is only one of many. A list of contributing factors includes sexual attitudes, beliefs and skills, family structure and beliefs, growing up in a poor community, having little attachment to one's parents or other significant adults, failing at school, even depression.
Whatever the reason, the fact remains that the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy rate among other comparable industrialized nations -- twice as high as Britain's, 10 times as high as the Netherlands'. Given the effect that teen pregnancy has on young girls, their children and society, these figures are simply not acceptable
Of all the pregnancy-prevention approaches that have been tried, the report indicates that service-learning programs offer the strongest evidence of teen-pregnancy rate reduction during and after young people's participation. Service learning brings together education with community action, as students -- either as volunteers or as part of an actual class -- learn while doing good for others.
Apparently, as participants learn they can make a difference in the lives of others, they gain a sense of autonomy and feel more empowered to make the right decisions in their own lives. What's more, participating in supervised activities -- especially after school -- reduces the opportunities teens have to engage in risky behavior, including unprotected sex.
The Ohio legislature should move from its abstinence-only fixation and accept the need for more programs that work for more young women.