The U.S. Still Leads the Developed World in Teen Pregnancy Because American Teens Don’t Know How to Use Condoms

Illustration for article titled The U.S. Still Leads the Developed World in Teen Pregnancy Because American Teens Don’t Know How to Use Condoms

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 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.

Teen Pregnancy Declines, But U.S. Still Lags [NPR]

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In Texas, we have abstinence only education. The idea is that it's up to parents to talk to their kids about sex, but the problem is that many parents don't (or they do but after a kid has probably become sexually active). Even in health class, abstinence was pushed. We were told how a baby is made, but we were told nothing about safe sex, STIs, etc. Luckily my parents were proactive in teaching me about sex starting from a young age. They were uncomfortable conversations, but I'm glad my parents talked to me about it. Some of my friends weren't so lucky. Even now, some of the things my friends say (as adults) about sex completely baffle me. I just can't believe some of the things they say.

I teach in the same district, and the policy is still there. We have a high pregnancy rate, but I have noticed we haven't had as many pregnant girls as we did a couple years ago (though what that's attributed to, no clue). Some of the things that I overhear students say in the hallways about how to avoid getting pregnant are really saddening. One time I overheard a girl tell her friend that you can't get pregnant if you have sex standing up because gravity will prevent the sperm from reaching the egg. I've had a couple girls come to me scared after they find out they're pregnant and asking me what they should do, which is really hard because I can get in a lot of trouble depending on what I say because of district and state policy. It makes me sad because if we had a proper sex ed class, our students would probably be making better decisions like using protection.