Sexual education is a hotly debated topic in many parts of the world but increasingly, researchers are finding more benefits to it. In a new study, researchers found that having access to sexual education programs can reduce teenage pregnancy.
The study was carried out in the US and compared teenage pregnancy rates in different counties over a 20-year period. Some counties had implemented sexual education programs over a decade ago, while others had not. Results showed that in places where sexual education was introduced, teenage pregnancy dropped significantly.
In particular, teenage pregnancy rates dropped by 1.5% the first year programs were introduced, and by approximately 7% in the fifth year of funding.
“Sex education in the United States has been hotly debated among researchers, policy makers, and the public,” says Nicholas Mark, a doctoral candidate in New York University’s Department of Sociology and the lead author of the paper, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). “Our analysis provides evidence that funding for more comprehensive sex education led to an overall reduction in the teen birth rate at the county level of more than 3 percent.”
The study focused specifically on the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program (TPP), which was initiated in 2010 and awards funding at the county level. This program offers comprehensive information on sex, contraception, and reproductive health. Meanwhile, some counties focus more on abstinence-only programs, which have proven to be widely ineffective.
“We’ve known for some time that abstinence-only programs are ineffective at reducing teen birth rates,” adds Lawrence Wu, a professor in NYU’s Department of Sociology and the paper’s senior author. “This work shows that more wide-reaching sex education programs—those not limited to abstinence—are successful in lowering rates of teenage pregnancy.”
Among developed countries, the US has a relatively high teen pregnancy rate. Although the rate has generally declined in the past two decades, it still remains relatively high. Three in ten American girls will get pregnant before age 20, adding up to almost 750,000 pregnancies a year.
Previous studies have shown that abstinence-only programs are not only ineffective, but also unethical. In fact, teaching only abstinence can lead to more (not less) teenage pregnancy.
Studies such as this one add more weight to the idea that sex education programs provide tangible benefits to society. Furthermore, studies suggest that teens are having sex earlier than before, which means sex-ed programs are needed more than ever. In addition, a majority of US voters support the introduction of sexual education programs.
The researchers emphasize that the findings are consistent with previous findings. Usually, when sex education programs are introduced, there’s a small decline in teenage birth rates, and over time, the rate seems to drop further
Ultimately, the team concludes, this speaks for federal funding towards comprehensive sexual education.
The study was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.