Features

Abstinence Only Education?

By Elena Iakovleva, Hannah Ireland, Kelsey Rettke and Maarja Roon
CONTRIBUTORS FROM JOURNALISM 125

Teen pregnancy is a problem in the United States. Out of 17 countries polled in 2008, the U.S. had the highest amount of teen births per 1000 girls aged 15-19. That is nearly twice as many as the U.K. (next in line) and nearly ten times as many as Switzerland.

Wisconsin has the second lowest number of teen pregnancies in the Midwest and eleven less pregnancies per thousand girls aged 15-19 than the U.S. average. This may be partly because Wisconsin state law mandates that school districts have two options: no sexual education or a comprehensive program that cannot be limited to abstinence-only.

Studies show that comprehensive sexual education significantly reduces STIs and pregnancies among teens. In addition, abstinence-only and/or no sexual education does not prevent teens from engaging in sex and creates more of a risk that they will have unprotected sex.

Comprehensive approaches to sexual education help young people both withstand the pressures to have sex too early and to have healthy, responsible and mutually protective relationships when they do become sexually active. There is no evidence that abstinence-only education delays teen sexual activity. According to Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit organization advancing sexual health, twothirds of comprehensive programs that support both abstinence and the use of contraceptives had positive behavioral effects. Many programs delayed or reduced sexual activity, sexual partners or increased the use of contraceptives.

However, Beloit Memorial High School (BMHS) does not teach students about healthy relationships, contraceptives or even the abstinence-only mentality. BMHS merely informs students of what STIs look like and how to treat them, not how to prevent them. Since the school district does not have a sex-ed curriculum, teachers only have the school board’s directives to guide them. The school board has even banned the use of some words such as “reproduction,” and the teachers feel uncertain of how they should teach the subject.

In terms of teen pregnancies, Beloit stands out. In 2009 Beloit had the second highest teenage pregnancy rate in Wisconsin after Milwaukee. According to the Rock County Health Department 94 of the total 595 births in Beloit in 2008 were to teenage mothers. Despite representing only 23 percent of Rock County’s population, Beloit accounted for 44 percent of reported STI cases in 2009.

Teen pregnancies are not healthy for youth. Teen parents are more likely to smoke during pregnancy – a leading factor in Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Babies born to teen mothers are at a higher risk of being unhealthy or dying. More than one quarter of teen pregnancies end in abortion.

By denying students sexual education, we are creating a burden for the United States as a whole. According to the Guttmacher Institute, teen mothers are more likely to drop out of high school and 75 percent of all unmarried teen mothers go on welfare within five years of the birth of their first child.

The Beloit School District has acknowledged this problem and is trying to come up with a Human Growth and Development, or sex education, curriculum. The aforementioned statistics show that if the School District of Beloit does implement such a program Beloit teens will be less likely to engage in high risk sex, contract an STI, become a teen parent or seek an abortion.

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