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Posted at 10:15 AM ET, 01/26/2010

Sex education -- the right kind

By Valerie Strauss

Cause and effect is often hard to determine, but at least part of the reported rise in teen pregnancy may result from the rise of abstinence-only sex education during the last decade. Congress should pay sharp attention and stop spending money on what doesn't work.

A report released today shows that the pregnancy rate among teenage girls in the United States has jumped for the first time in more than a decade.

Among 15-to-19-year-olds, it increased 3 percent between 2005 and 2006 -- the first jump since 1990. The report was conducted by a nonprofit nonpartisan research group called the Guttmacher Institute, using the most recent data available.

One of the disturbing things about this is that experts have shown what kind of sex education works in schools -- and it isn’t the kind that kids have been getting.

A panel of independent experts recently concluded that sex ed programs that are along the comprehensive lines--encouraging teens to delay sexual activity while teaching them about contraception--can reduce risky behavior, increase condom use and lower the chances of getting the AIDS virus and other infections.

I recently talked with Maureen Ellen Lyon, a clinical health psychologist and associate research professor at George Washington University who was president of an American Psychological Association committee that recommended comprehensive sex education in schools to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. She said that while there “is no denying” that popular culture can affect teen behavior, the kind of sex education a teen receives at school matters -- and a child’s parents can have a powerful effect too.

What works?

Comprehensive sex ed targeted to specific populations can reduce risky behavior among teens, even those who are already sexual active, solid research shows. The need to target it to specific populations -- for example, 14- to 16-year-olds, kids already sexually active, gay men and women -- makes it trickier to provide sex ed in schools, but, she said, school-based education on this subject is vital.

President Obama’s administration supports comprehensive sex education and has eliminated more than $150 million in funds for groups that focus on abstinence education only, a strategy used during the Bush administrations.

The problem here is that the Senate’s health-care reform legislation seeks to reinstate $50 million to such groups.

There are likely a number of other reasons that have come together to help push up the rate of teen pregnancies. But since we know the right kind of sex ed works, it is logical to conclude that the wrong kind doesn’t.

And there is no reason to waste another dime on it.


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By Valerie Strauss  | January 26, 2010; 10:15 AM ET
Categories:  Health  | Tags:  sex education  
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This is very misleading BS. There are statistics proving the "effectiveness" of both the abstinence and safety sides and to make this sort of one sided article is both disappointing and criminal. Shame on you author

Posted by: hmmmw | January 26, 2010 11:52 AM | Report abuse

I concur with the comment by "hmmmw | January 26, 2010 11:52 AM". And, anyone who labels the Guttmacher Institute "nonpartisan" is either uninformed or intentionally misrepresenting the facts.

Posted by: DoTheRightThing | January 26, 2010 11:58 AM | Report abuse

It's just as illogical to explain it away by blaming a specific curriculum that some researchers have said has no measurable effect.

Perhaps we should the $50 million in exploring the failings of comprehensive sex education programs in stemming the rise of pregnancy rates, abortion rates, STD rates, statutory rape claims, teenage prostitution busts and alike.

The real question we need to ask is why do we merely measure sex education programs by their effect on teenage pregnancies? Are not these other matters to concern of society? Do we not intend to limit such activities through use of such curriculum?

Posted by: cprferry | January 26, 2010 6:18 PM | Report abuse

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