The new report from the Centers for Disease Control on teen pregnancy confirms what many of us already know -- denying information to teens about how to prevent pregnancy does not prevent them from finding out about sex. It turns out they figure that out on their own. The recent rise in the teen birth rate, reversing a 14-year trend, proves that.
Over the past decade, the U.S. government has spent about $1 billion on abstinence-only education -- education programs designed to prevent students from getting the real facts about contraception, condoms and protection.
In Pennsylvania, the federal government spends more money on abstinence-only education programs, which federally funded studies show do not work, than on sex education programs that have a proven track record. And those federal education dollars come with long strings attached -- the programs can't teach about hormonal birth control or even condoms, except to emphasize that birth control and condoms can fail.
Pennsylvania gets an extra injection of abstinence-only-until-marriage funding through millions of dollars in earmarks every year sponsored by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Several school districts in Western Pennsylvania even consider themselves "abstinence-only" districts, making it policy to refuse to provide the facts.
Abstinence is, without doubt, the only surefire way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. But abstinence -- like condoms -- works best when used perfectly. The failure rate for abstinence is too high.
A 2006 Harvard study of abstinence pledges found that half of those who pledged to be abstinent recanted within a year, and many teens who took the pledge had sex and then denied they'd ever pledged to be abstinent.
We've seen the impact -- a 3 percent increase in the rate of teen births in the commonwealth, as well as across the nation, in 2006. As parents who would rather not see our children join that statistic, we know it's time to get real about sexuality education.
Comprehensive sexuality education is abstinence-based, but it also takes the next step, recognizing that some teens won't abstain. These teens deserve information about how to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as how to behave responsibly.
We need education programs in our schools that will keep teens healthy -- by including information about abstinence as well as contraception, healthy communication, responsible decision making and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections. We need these programs to remind teens early and often how to protect themselves because caution is not fully wired into the teenage brain.
As members of the board of Planned Parenthood of Western Pennsylvania, we share this organization's philosophy that parents are the best people to educate their children about sexuality. Parents can communicate the values of their family and help young people make decisions better than anyone else.
As parents we are having these conversations with our sons and daughters, but we know first-hand that parents sometimes need a little help. Teenagers are more likely to be safe if healthy habits are reinforced at school and in the community.
Comprehensive sexuality education makes sure that no teens fall through the cracks and miss important information about how to take care of themselves and their future partners.