An ongoing debate exists: what works best to lower teen pregnancies? One side advocates abstinence-only education while others are persuaded that comprehensive sex education (including instruction in birth control) is best for students. What does the evidence suggest?
Here’s a graph of teen births by sex education requirement at the State level. Sex education requirement is classified in three ways: 1) State must stress abstinence (red); 2) State must cover abstinence (yellow), and 3) No abstinence required (green).
Cohen finds “states that require abstinence-only education have higher rates of teen births than those that do not. States that require abstinence-only be “stressed” in any sex-ed classes average 9.9% of births to teenagers; those that require it be “covered” average 9.0%; and those with no requirement average 7.3%.” While the above is an interesting descriptive analysis, it doesn’t allow one to conclude any causal association between abstinence education and teen births. Cohen properly points the reader to a more rigorous multivariate study (Stanger-Hall and Hall, 2011), controlling for four possible confounding variables: socio-economic status, educational achievement, and ethnic composition and Medicaid waivers for family planning. (Benson et al. (2009) found “Medicaid-funded access to contraceptives and family planning services has been shown to decrease the incidence of unplanned pregnancies, especially among low-income women and teens.”)
The authors conclude:
“…increasing emphasis on abstinence education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates. This trend remains significant after accounting for socioeconomic status, teen educational attainment, the ethnic composition of the teen population, and availability of Medicaid waivers for family planning services in each state. These data show clearly that abstinence-only education as a state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy and may be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rates in the U.S.”
Other studies appear to support the overall conclusion:
In a lot of cases, it turned out that sexual education is crucial for later events that one teenager will survive in his life. Teenagers that attempt sexual education classes were less confused at the period when hormones started to do their work. Children that haven’t faced with this subject in early aged were terrified with the situation they got themselves into. It turned out that the percentage of pregnancy was higher than among children that attempted sexual education classes. If they are prepared, they won’t be frightened and paralyzed in front of the new life challenge. It is very important not to forbid them to act natural according to their age. The only thing they need to do is to be cautious.