Feminism | Posted by Chloe H on 11/14/2014

Facts Don’t Lie: Teens Need Sex Ed and Access to Contraception

the IUD

Access to education is a fundamental right. But are all American students learning everything they need to know? The use of abstinence-only education in schools is archaic and absurd, and yet it’s a commonplace policy.

According to a 2012 Guttmacher study, approximately a quarter of teens between the age of 15 and 19 had received abstinence education without instruction on birth control between 2006 and 2008 and a significant amount of teens (46% of males and 33% of females) do not receive formal instruction about contraceptives before the first time they have sex. Thirty-seven states require sex education that includes abstinence while twenty-six states require abstinence to be stressed as the best method. The state of Mississippi has the highest rate of teen pregnancy and does not require sex education in schools, but when it is taught, abstinence-only education is used. It’s also worth noting that the United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the developed world (68 per 1,000 women aged 15–19 in 2008).

Withholding information about how to protect oneself against unwanted pregnancy and STIs is a terrible disservice to the youth of the United States, who deserve to have a complete education. As much as some people try to ignore or evade the subject, sex is an omnipresent aspect of our society and an innate part of life.  Forty-eight percent of 17-year-olds, 61% of 18-year-olds and 71% of 19-year-olds have had sex.  Failing to provide comprehensive sex education to youth of the United States is like allowing a teenager to drive a car for the first time without an instructor: it is dangerous and it can change the life of that teenager and other people involved forever.

Furthermore, failing to educate teens about contraception can impact their education overall. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, only 51 percent of teen moms earn a high school diploma compared to 89 percent of female students who did not give birth as a teen. However, according to a new study from The New England Journal of Medicine, we have the ability to cut teen pregnancy and abortion rates by 75 percent.  Data proves that teens can effectively prevent pregnancy when they are educated on their complete range of options for their sexual health.

According to the study, which tracked 1,404 girls at risk for teen pregnancy, when they received counseling and could choose a contraceptive method, 72% chose an IUD.  An Intrauterine Device (IUD) is an extremely effective method of birth control because there is less user error.  The device is inserted by a medical professional and can be used for up to twelve years.  Instead of having to remember to take birth control every day or rush to buy the morning after pill, a woman with an IUD only needs to have the device inserted once.  Over the course of five years, researchers observed the pregnancy rate decrease by 79% and the abortion rate decline by 77% for the girls in the study.  Racial disparity in unintended pregnancy rates (African American teens are more susceptible) also virtually disappeared.  The girls in the study received all possible options for having safe sex, and the vast majority made an educated decision to use an IUD.  Even though the American Academy of Pediatrics officially recommends IUDs for teens, the national average for teen IUD use is only just above 5%.

We know that the widespread use of IUDs would dramatically reduce pregnancy and abortion.  I believe schools have a responsibility to provide this type of knowledge to their students. Telling ourselves that teenagers won’t have sex is a naïve fantasy.  Sex is inevitable. Why wouldn’t schools, parents, and society want to let their sons and daughters make decisions without the plethora of resources and knowledge that modern medicine has provided?

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