The United States has, thankfully, seen a decrease in teen pregnancy. However, our teen pregnancy rate is still too high for a country of our developmental stage, as other western industrialized countries have significantly lower rates of teen pregnancy. Even more concerning, teen pregnancy rates in the United States are largely determined by which socioeconomic class a teenage girl is in. In 2016 and 2017 teen pregnancies in black and hispanic groups were individually over twice that of white teens. The difference in teen pregnancy rates can be tied to communities with less education or lower incomes. Further, teenage girls in childhood welfare programs are significantly more likely to become pregnant.
In the 1980s and 1990s the United States government made a deliberate legislative choice to provide more funding to programs that promote abstinence. Federal money is specifically given to organizations that teach abstinence-only sex education and actually restrict access to information on contraceptives and sexuality. Money provided for these programs more than doubled between 1998 and 2005. Even more concerning, efforts have been combined with federal agencies focused on maternal and childhood health.
While one would think that over time we would become more open to discussing such issues in school settings, it is actually the opposite. Public schools in the United States have become less likely to provide accurate sex education outside of abstinence over the past few decades. Despite the fact that healthcare professionals have expressed concern about patients not being educated enough about sexuality and safe sexual practices, states continue to pass restrictions on sex education. Some states even punish teachers who provide any information on sex outside of abstinence.
In looking into sex education programs in underdeveloped countries that struggle with HIV/AIDS prevention, it has also been found that policies in the United States are impacting other nations. Underdeveloped countries look to the United States as an example of what works, which has led to a lack of information about sexual health and even misinformation being spread in these countries in desperate need of a change. In order to heal a country's sexual health information must be provided for those individuals who are sexually active, rather than just telling the entire population to abstain until marriage.
The effort to increase abstinence-only education is often attributed to a want for adolescents to wait to have sex. However, despite their efforts, abstinence-only education has proven to have no impact on when kids start having sex. Further, very few programs impact sexual behaviors of adolescents positively, as in they don't lead to safer practices. On the contrary, programs that include information about safe sex and sexuality have been shown to both lead to adolescents having sex later and having safer sexual practices.
Overall it is shocking that in 2019 the government still feels a need to restrict information available to students, especially when they tie it directly to religious interests. Students need to be given all information available in order to make the best decision possible for themselves. We need education that expands rather than restricts students' minds, which will lead to a safer and better off country.