Last week brought some very disturbing news from the Centers for Disease Control: there is a steep rise in the number of sexually active teens who are using the rhythm method as a primary method of birth control. As a “method,” it is highly unreliable, and, according to national experts, points to why the decline in teen pregnancy rates has stalled.
This trend is troubling not only because I am responsible for the health and wellbeing of tens of thousands who turn to us for health care each year, but also because I am a parent.
Many parents share my worry about the forces that have worked against us in our shared effort to protect teens from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections: popular culture that romanticizes early sexuality; single parenthood and teen pregnancy; millions of dollars wasted on abstinence-only education (which research shows does not work); the rising cost of reliable birth control methods, and the increasing lack of access to affordable reproductive health care – just to name a few.
We have an obligation to get our heads out of the sand to protect and empower our sons and daughters by, at the very least, making sure they have access to accurate, age-appropriate, fact-based sexuality education.
Planned Parenthood does not stand alone in supporting the demonstrated need for such information and programming. In the words of one of our teen volunteers: “It’s my basic human right to know how my body works.” There are many other organizations that hold the same to be true, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists, American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association.
Contrary to some mythology, sexuality education programs do not increase sexual activity among teens; rather, they often delay first intercourse, reduce the frequency of sex and number of sexual partners, and, reduce teen pregnancy.
In study after study, responsible sex education has proven effective in providing adolescents with the knowledge, skills and values to make safer and healthier choices. Yet after several years of coalition work with public health and advocacy groups across the state, Minnesota’s elected officials have yet to act on a solution so that Minnesota’s school children receive evidence-based, age-appropriate sexuality education.
As parents ourselves, we at Planned Parenthood know that that process begins at home; we actively work to support parents as the primary sexuality educators of their children and to help them open and keep open the lines of communication with their children. The job does not stop there, however, and the overwhelming majority of Minnesota parents (89 percent) agree that comprehensive sexuality education in schools, including information on abstinence, birth control and safe sex, is needed (http://www.coalitionforsexed.org/responsible_sex_ed.htm)
It’s time to declare war on ignorance and avoidance. And it’s time to give our young people the tools they need to build brighter, healthier futures.