Freaking out about teen girls having teen sex is as American an institution as packing one's overtaxed colon full of heavily processed meats during football games. But reality paints a different picture than the pearl-clutching; for the severalth year in a row, all that sex teens are supposedly having due to TWERKING and RIHANNA and INSTAGRAM isn't resulting in pregnancy. In fact, in 2012, fewer American teens had babies than ever. Either teens are exceptionally responsible about birth control at the same time their sluttiness is reaching critical mass, or all this hymen panic is unwarranted. Guess which one we think it is.
According to the Centers for Disease Control report, in 2011, 329,797 babies were born to girls ages 15 to 19, giving us a birth rate of 31.3 per 1,000 women. In 2012, that rate declined an additional 6%, putting the teen fertility rate at 29.2 live births per 1,000 girls, the lowest rate since the government agency began keeping track. The CDC has been collecting data on the American birthrate for 73 years, so these figures are nothing to sneeze at.
In contrast, the birth rate for women in other age groups held relatively steady or ticked slightly upward (for women in the 30-34 age group, the birth rate rose 3%; for everyone else, the birth rate fell 1%). Some analysts suggest that this may be the result of the petering down of the recession. Others suggest witchcraft (no one suggests witchcraft; this is a "callback" to Anna's post about the Book of Jezebel).
But back to teens.
We know that the teen birth rate has been falling dramatically for the last several years in a row. We also know that the abortion rate hasn't seen a particular spike recently (the most recently available figures suggest that the abortion rate for all age groups is falling). So we can conclude that, unless teens are having miscarriages left and right, that fewer teens are getting pregnant from in the first place.
But how are teens managing to not get pregnant? As a person who possesses the necessary baby gestating equipment and who has been doing sex for more than a decade, I know of a few ways to stay non-pregnant. The first is to diligently use birth control (although unless you do it exactly perfectly right all the time, you're facing a formidable failure rate). The second is to not have sex in the first place (which also has a failure rate — sometimes women don't have a say over when they have sex, which can also result in pregnancy). The third is to focus all that teen sexual energy on your latent Sapphic urges. So, we can conclude, based on the available data, that the low teen birth rate is due to increased birth control use OR less hetero sex-having or some combination of the two. Teens being responsible! Girls, even! But I thought teen girls were silly all the time!!!1
No matter the magical formula that's leading teens away from the promise of a Farah Abraham-esque Teen Mom nightmare life trajectory, evidence clearly supports a reality that diverges sharply from the ever whining conservative freak out over the sexualization of girls, and of young women's purported inability to make decisions independent of pop culture's influence. Are aspects of popular culture promoting a harmful model of femininity that relies on the approval of others as a basis for personal worth? Sure. But teenage girls are better than that. They're stronger and smarter than that. And they're taking steps to put themselves on a path to self-reliance, not subjugation.
Guess nobody told that to Richard Cohen.