Report Shows Lower Teen-Sex and Pregnancy Rates
by Wendy Cloyd, assistant editor
Decline began with the introduction of abstinence education.
Teen-sex and pregnancy rates are down, according to a National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) report released today. Experts say parents should take a closer look at the data to determine what the statistics show and how to keep kids healthy.
The NCHS study tracked trends among high school students from 1991 to 2005. In 1991, 54 percent of teens reported having had sexual intercourse. In 2005, that number dropped to 47 percent. The rate of teen pregnancy also showed a dramatic decline.
Dr. Joyce Abma, social scientist for NCHS, which is a division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the data come from "pencil and paper questionnaires" called the Youth Risk Behavior Survey given to students at public and private schools.
"It's a cross-section of the high school student population in the United States in each of those years," Abma said. "The report contains data from each of the biennial surveys between those two time points, but those time points are interesting because the decline is significant between them."
Linda Klepacki, analyst for sexual health at Focus on the Family Action, said 1991 is a significant marker for a reason.
"That's when we separated out abstinence education from contraceptive-based education," she said. "We have seen a continual decline since 1991, so we can infer that we've had an effect with abstinence education in our public schools."
Abma said Klepacki is on to something. While the study did not attempt to investigate cause, she said, efforts to educate teens about the risks associated with sexual intercourse have "increased and intensified" over the last decade.
"Given how many of those efforts are going on," Abma said, "it is probably making an impact on both abstinence and responsible sexual behavior."
Harry Wilson, associate commissioner at the Family and Youth Services Bureau for the Department of Health and Human Services, said the study reflects that kids are making better decisions than they were 10 years ago.
"They’re making those good decisions, and, hopefully, it’s because the programs are working," he said. "The messages that they get are that it’s better to wait."
Klepacki said the trend is significant, but cautioned against being overly optimistic.
"Even though sexual-intercourse rates have been declining, that does not mean that other sexual-activity rates are also declining," she said. "We have seen a move to other sexual activities to protect their 'technical virginity.' " That's why it is important for kids to learn that the best way to stay healthy both physically and emotionally is abstinence until marriage.
"Parents need to continue to teach their children God's interpretation of sexual activity," Klepacki said, "and that's sexual purity in their heart, mind and body."
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