The truth at last – abstinence-only programmes make the situation worse

To the surprise of few outside the rarefied world of the Religious Right, it has emerged that George W Bush’s “abstinence only” policies led directly to a rise in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Centres for Disease Control (CDC) says that after years of falling rates, teen pregnancies and STDs started rising after Bush was re-elected in 2005.

According to the CDC, birth rates among teenagers aged 15 or older had been in decline since 1991 but rose sharply in more than half of American states after 2005. The number of teenage girls with syphilis had risen by nearly half after a big decrease, while a 20-year fall in the gonorrhea infection rate was being reversed. AIDS cases in adolescent boys had nearly doubled.

The CDC says southern states (the Bible Belt) tend to have the highest rates of teenage pregnancy and STDs. In addition, about 16,000 pregnancies were reported among girls aged 10-14 in 2004 and a similar number of young people in the age group reported having a sexually transmitted disease.

Some of the statistics the CDC report reveals:

  • 75% of teens will have sex prior to their 20th birthday.
  • The teenage birth rate in the US is the highest in the developed world.
  • 1/3 of youths have not received any instruction on methods of birth control before the age of 18.

The number of teen pregnancies is double in areas where abstinence is the only method of birth control taught as opposed to areas where there is comprehensive sex education and condoms are handed out. The organisation Planned Parenthood said the report was alarming and that teenagers needed “medically accurate, age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education”.

However, religious proponents of the “abstinence-only” policies still insist that the reason for the rise is because their policies were not promoted hard enough..

See also: Abstinence plus – just a sop to parents or lying to teens?