Sex Ed Is a Day Late and Dollar Short for America's Teenagers


For all too many teenagers, America’s current sexual education is tantamount to shutting the barn door after the horse has already gotten out. According to a new report from the CDC, anyway.

Overall, the news about teen pregnancy is encouraging. The Washington Post reports that “births to girls aged 15-19 dropped from 84.1 per 1,000 teens in 1991 t0 29.4 in 2012.” But America isn’t done yet:

More than one-fourth of those children — some 86,423, or 1,700 a week — were born to girls aged 15 to 17 in 2012. That represents a healthy decline of 63 percent in the past 21 years as well. But giving birth that young is associated with a variety of medical risks and emotional, social, and financial costs, including the likelihood that the mother will not finish high school or earn a GED.

Even more alarming is a stat the L.A. Times plucks out: Many girls aren’t getting sex ed before they start having sex. “Among teen girls who were sexually experienced, 83% told interviewers that they didn’t get formal sex education until after they’d lost their virginity,” according to the Times.

“We are missing opportunities to deliver prevention messages before younger teens begin having sex,” said to Ileana Arias, the CDC’s principal deputy director. That’s both abstinence-only and, you know, more thorough approaches, for the record. Imagine if we scheduled driver’s ed for two years after everyone got their licenses.

The sexually active teens aren’t using the most effective birth controls, either:

Only 15% of these teens used a birth control method that was deemed at least “moderately” effective the first time they had sex, including the pill, vaginal ring, IUD or hormonal implant. Another 62% used a “less effective” method, such as condoms, sponges, the rhythm method or withdrawal. The remaining 23% said they didn’t use any type of contraception when they lost their virginity, the researchers reported.

23 percent is a pretty high percentage of sexually active teens playing reproductive roulette. Then again, it’s awfully hard to have effective, nationwide sex ed when a sizable slice of the country wants us to tell girls to put an aspirin between their legs.

Photo via Shutterstock.

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