Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Abstinence only education is a joke.

Let me first apologize for what is going to be a very statistics heavy post.  Well I would say that except statistics are awesome.  Science, YAY!

I have a religious family so I hear the line about abstinence education every time the topic of human sexuality comes up.  (this is more often than you might think with my parents for some weird reason)  The last time it came up I got to thinking I should do some more research on the topic, since as a skeptic I don't like saying things without clear facts to back them up.

I have read articles stating that birth rates have been falling for teens, and are generally higher in abstinence only states, but hadn't really researched the particular numbers and thought it was high time I looked into those.  Amazingly just about the time I was thinking about looking into this I saw some news articles posted in reference to some new figures that had just come out.

Basically the article is showing that average birth rate of women in their teens (15 to 19) is 34.3 per 1,000 women.  This was about a 9 point drop from the year before.  This seemed pretty significant to me but I wondered exactly how this compared to other years.  A short Google search later I found this link:

So, the CDC has been collecting statistics on birth rates since 1940 so we have a pretty large data set to judge from.  The firs thing I noticed was that the record high for teen births was in 1957 at a whopping 96.3 births per 1,000.  I also noticed that it has been on the decline almost every year since except for a small increase in early 90's. 

I found this rather interesting since the the 50's are often heralded as the sort of society we want to return too, at least in regards to sexual mores, and the sexual revolution that began in the 60's is heralded as the start of all of problems our society faces regarding sexual behavior. 

Another part of the statistics were telling as well.  The 2010 statistics show that states which favor abstinence only education have much higher teen pregnancy rates than those who favor more comprehensive sex-ed.  In Mississippi the rate is 55 out of 1,000 while New Hampshire peaked at 15.7.

Of course the common attack that fundamentalist will throw out at this point is that the rates have dropped because more of these pregnancies have been aborted, however this seems fairly unlikely since, as you can see here, the rate of abortions has fallen by about 33% since the early 80's while teen pregnancy also fell by about 18 per 1,000 in that same time frame.

It should also been noted that despite the drops in birth rates we are still one of the higher in the developed world.  For instance the very secular country of Sweden has a teen pregnancy rate of only 13 in 1,000.

In short the religious rights arguments for abstinence only education are complete nonsense, despite the common perception that teen pregnancy is at an all time high in this society.  The figures show that this perception is not the case, comprehensive sex ed is working. 

This begs an interesting question, why are these political leaders promoting something so contrary to the evidence?  These figures were gathered by the CDC, not just some fly by night organization.  It should not be hard for these politicians to find these numbers.  Do I conclude that these politicians are so blinded by ideology that they are unable to see these figures for what they are?  Do I conclude they are simply too stupid to understand them?  Or is it something more insidious?  Perhaps they know that abstinence only education doesn't work and they simply care more about promoting their own beliefs than they care about the lives they are actively harming with this nonsense.   I don't know what the reason is, but none of the reasons I can think of paint them in a very positive light.


  1. I don't think sexuality comes up that often at all in our family. If anything mom and dad avoid the topic, as it might lead to the uncomfortable topic of my preferences...

  2. That is probably true, though my point (meant to be humorous) was that it seems a little weird to ever converse about sex with ones parents.

    I only mentioned it because I know our dad has on several occasions claimed that teen pregnancy is a huge problem based upon his experiences teaching, and seems to think I am an ignoramus for suggesting otherwise. Though I think that probably has more to do with the general problem that any parent has in admitting their child may know more about something than they do.

  3. Hey, I was in a tiny school in high school and the number of girls that were pregnant was utterly shocking. So I wouldn't say he's entirely inaccurate and that was a school that was not teaching abstinence only, might I add.

  4. Um...I know you already know what anecdotal evidence is so I don't know why we are having this conversation. Read the statistics, he IS entirely inaccurate.

  5. Also, Arizona is one of the states that is bringing the average up, I think it was about 44 out of 1,000, this is still far lower than the rates in the 1950's.