The rational approach to handling teen pregnancies

At my book club meeting yesterday, the conversation veered off-topic as it often does, this time into the charged arena of teen pregnancy and contraception. One of the attendees commented that she had read that schools in New York were giving out condoms to students. Another member remarked that they would let them have condoms but wouldn't let them have "Big Gulp" soft drinks! At which point someone said, "Yeah, their priorities are a bit skewed." And I thought, but did not say, "No, I'd say their priorities are about right."

The rate of  teenage pregnancies has been falling in this country as a whole, but it is still a very serious problem, especially in the most conservative states in the country. States like Texas. Or Mississippi. A map showing the rate of teenage pregnancies in the various states very clearly shows this. The map shows the rates as shades of red ranging from near white (15 or less births per 1000 women aged 15 to 19) to darkest red (55 or more such births). Most of the darkest red states are those along the southern border of the country, the area that also tends to be most politically conservative.

Why should this be? These same red states are the ones that give the loudest lip service to the idea of chastity and postponing sex until after marriage. So why doesn't their reality conform to their stated values? Probably because teenage hormones are more powerful than dry lectures on the importance of chastity.

Most of these red states do not require schools to teach contraception. In fact, many of them prohibit schools from even mentioning sex. Several do not require any type of sex education and many that do ostensibly permit such a course require the teachers to stress abstinence and advise children to wait until after marriage. In a hyper-sexualized society such as ours, that's a bit like advising a person standing in a pond and dying of thirst not to drink any of the water that is all around him/her.

Indeed, studies have shown repeatedly that abstinence-only sex education is not as effective at reducing teen pregnancies and births as is providing practical help and information to teenagers about how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. So, I say good on New York for facing reality and making contraception and even morning-after pills available to students. Let's hope that some day Texas and the other red states will be enlightened enough to follow their lead. Unfortunately, it won't be before many more thousands of promising young lives are blighted or ruined by an unwanted pregnancy.

As for those huge soft drinks, if I ruled the world, they would be totally banned!


  1. Having worked in high schools I strongly feel that campus nurses should be able to hand out contraceptives without parent notification. I believe this would stop 95% of teen pregnancy and decrease the abortion rates dramatically! We, in the red states, are idiots !! And yes I have a daughter!

    1. I have two of them and I share your belief that a rational and comprehensive - not to mention compassionate - approach to preventing unwanted teen pregnancies would be best. But I'm not optimistic that I will see it in my lifetime in Texas.


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