Despite an encouraging decline in teen pregnancy, the U.S. still lags woefully far behind the rest of the developed world when it comes to teenagers not really knowing how their reproductive organs work and consequently using contraception incorrectly (or not at all).
NPR reports that last year saw the single-largest one-year decline in the country's teen birth rate — nine percent, and though the decline occurred across all races, blacks and Latinos in particular still recorded stubbornly high rates of teen pregnancy. According to Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, teens "are having less sex, and those who are having sex are using better forms of contraception." That all may be good news, but the teen pregnancy rate in the U.S. is still three times higher than it is in every other developed country, primarily, says Brown, because "U.S. teens are not as good...at using good contraception."
The U.S. also has a lot of different states to account for, each of which have their own, um, peculiar set of social values. Mississippi, for instance, had never required sex ed be taught in its school districts, since official state policy was abstinence. Who needs to know how sex parts work when nobody should be using them anyway? I mean, you really can't argue with that logic, and Mississippi didn't, which is part of the reason why, according to Executive Director of Mississippi First, Rachel Cantor, "almost every single county in Mississippi has a teen birth rate that is higher than the national average."
Cantor's organization is currently helping school districts implement a new policy towards sex ed called "Abstinence Plus," which the state legislature passed last summer in order to give school districts the option of exploring what that mysterious "plus" is all about. So far, 35 districts have adopted the policy, which is pretty encouraging in a state where some counties have a teen pregnancy rate as high as 111 births out of every 1,000 girls. For Mississippi, combating teen pregnancy is first and foremost about changing a culture that eschews sex talks. Cantor, as part of the new generation, is pretty hopeful about Mississippi's forward progress because at least some of the younger voices in Mississippi (and beyond) are more comfortable confronting one of the most unwavering truths of human existence: teenagers have sex, so we all need to deal with it.