Monday, September 8, 2008

What Can Be Learned?

Bristol Palin, 17, is having a baby. Shocking? Not so much. She is one of approximately 750,000 teens who become pregnant in the U.S. each year, keeping it among the highest rates of teem pregnancies in industrialized nations. The U.S. likewise has one of the worlds highest rate of teens with STDs.

Bristol was raised with strong conservative, pro-life values, yet she did not "just say no" to her boyfriend. Surprising? No so much.

Proponents of abstinence-only sex education say it "is the only 100-percent-certain way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)." This depends first on the definition of sexual abstinence. Does it mean, as many define it - avoiding intercourse? Even so...

1. No method of birth control is 100% effective as along as rape exists
2. No method of birth control is any more effective than it's proper use
3. Pregnancy can take place without vaginal penetration
3. STDS can be spread by actions of other than intercourse, and totally non-sexual activities, such as IV drug use and blood transfusion. In fact, despite sex education, teens in the United States continue to suffer from the highest birth rate

Yet, included in the 1996 Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunities Reconciliation Act, or "welfare reform" was the provision, later set out in Section 510(b) of Title V of the Social Security Act, appropriating $250 million dollars over five years for state initiatives promoting sexual abstinence outside of marriage as the only acceptable standard of behavior for young people.

One of the tools of the abstinence programs are virginity (including secondary virginity) pledges, and no sex until marriage pledges.

* Research on virginity pledges found that for a select group of young people, pledges did delay the onset of sexual intercourse for an average of 18 months (a goal still far short of the average age of marriage).1 However, the same study also found that young people who took a pledge were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who had not pledged.2 In other words, pledging can create harm by undermining contraceptive use when young people who take them become sexually active.

* The researchers also found that pledgers have the same rate of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) as their peers who had not pledged. In fact, not only were pledgers less likely to use condoms to prevent STDs, they were less likely to seek medical testing and treatment, thereby increasing the possibility of transmission.3

* Further research found that, among those young people who have not had vaginal intercourse, pledgers were more likely to have engaged in both oral and anal sex than their non-pledging peers . In fact, among virgins, male and female pledgers were six times more likely to have had oral sex than non-pledgers, and male pledgers were four times more likely to have had anal sex than those who had not pledged.

* According to the researchers, in communities where there are a higher proportion of pledgers, overall STD rates were significantly higher than in other settings. Specifically, in communities where more than 20% of young adults had taken virginity pledges, STD rates were 8.9% compared to 5.5% in communities with few pledgers.4

After five years the programs showed few short-term benefits and no lasting, positive impact. A few programs showed mild success at improving attitudes and intentions to abstain. No program was able to demonstrate a positive impact on sexual behavior over time.

The most demonstrable argument of abstinence-only lack of success is the 3 percent rise in the birth rate between 2005 and 2006 among 15-to-19-year-old girls.

"The United States is facing a teen-pregnancy health-care crisis, and the national policy of abstinence-only programs just isn't working," said Cecile Richard, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "It is time for everyone who cares about teenagers to start focusing on the common-sense solutions that will help solve this problem."

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