Teen Pregnancy Rates Rising On TV, Real LifeS

Yet another study shows teen pregnancy rates are rising — and our outrage at this contrasts creepily with our cultural obsession with teen moms themselves.

Echoing an earlier CDC study, the Guttmacher Institute reports that the pregnancy rate in 15- to 19-year-olds rose 3% between 2005 and 2006, to about 7%. The study takes abortions and miscarriages into account, showing that this isn't just an increase in women carrying their fetuses to term, but an increase in people who got pregnant in the first place. And of course, speculations are now flying as to the cause.

Probably not to blame is the much-vaunted "hookup culture" — a Seventeen magazine study found that among teen boys, serious relationships are about as common as hookups. A more likely culprit is abstinence education — the Guttmacher Institute's Lawrence Finer says, "The focus on abstinence and the shifts in pregnancy occurred about the same time."

Indeed, the abstinence movement — which could get re-funded as part of the Senate health care bill — remains completely tone-deaf. Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association told the Washington Post, "Research unmistakably indicates that delaying sexual initiation rates and reducing the total number of lifetime partners is more valuable in protecting the sexual health of young people than simply passing out condoms." But using a condom can actually prevent pregnancy, whereas having sex later doesn't do much if you don't know anything about birth control. The increase in pregnancy took place mostly among 18- to 19-year-olds, suggesting that even if teens are delaying sex until after high school, many are either unable or unwilling to use protection. Of course, some — like Elizabeth Hasselbeck — will probably take this new data as evidence that we need to be pushing abstinence harder. But as Tracie said of Bristol Palin's new abstinence "guarantee" — "Isn't the definition of insanity repeating the same mistake over and over expecting a different result?"

Some have put forth "cultural trends that promoted childbirth" general increase in American birth rates, and while Bristol probably isn't inspiring lots of girls to get knocked up (so they can stand woodenly by their moms and promise never to do it again?), teen pregnancy is definitely a Thing right now. Teen Mom and 16 and Pregnant have chronicled the lives of very young mothers, but perhaps most striking is the success of Pregnancy Pact, about a probably nonexistent agreement between teens in Gloucester, MA. The Lifetime Original Movie, which aired Saturday, was the top-rated movie on ad-supported cable since 1998 among women 18-34, and in all adults since 2004 — proving that although we may disapprove of teenagers having babies, we love to watch them do it. Indeed, the fascination with Bristol, Teen Mom, et al shows that we as a culture are fascinated with teen pregnancy — just not with teaching kids real ways to avoid it.

Image from Pregnancy Pact via NY Daily News
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Rise In Teenage Pregnancy Rate Spurs New Debate On Arresting It [Washington Post]
Teen Pregnancy, Abortion Rates Rise [USA Today]
Truth About Sex: 60% Of Young Men, Teen Boys Lie About It [USA Today]
Lifetime's The Pregnancy Pact Becomes Ad-Supported Cable's Number One Rated Movie Among Women 18-34 In Over 10 Years [PR Newswire]