. . . Or sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion?

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

There was Juno. There was Glouces­ter. There was Jamie Lynn Spears. And now, once again teen preg­nancy has cap­tured the at­ten­tion of the me­dia all across the coun­try. Un­for­tu­nately, the me­dia hype glam­or­izes an is­sue that is any­thing but glam­orous.

As the mother of two teenagers, I rec­og­nize the real strug­gles fam­i­lies face keep­ing their kids healthy and safe.

Teen preg­nancy hap­pens to hun­dreds of thou­sands of girls each year from Ban­gor to San An­to­nio to Fresno. And, for the vast ma­jor­ity of th­ese teens, the preg­nancy was not planned. Most of th­ese teens find them­selves un­ex­pect­edly preg­nant without the fi­nan­cial — or fa­mil­ial — re­sources to be­come a par­ent.

At Planned Par­ent­hood health cen­ters across the coun­try, we see th­ese teens, and their fam­i­lies, ev­ery sin­gle day. Last year, we pro­vided sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion to 1.2 mil­lion teens and adults. And we see first­hand their strug­gle — their strug­gle to stay healthy, to make re­spon­si­ble de­ci­sions, to suc­ceed in life.

This year alone, it is es­ti­mated that 750,000 teenage girls in the U.S. will be­come preg­nant. That is more than 12 times the num­ber of peo­ple di­ag­nosed with AIDS in 2008 and more than the to­tal num­ber of peo­ple ex­pected to die from some type of can­cer this year. Put an­other way, 11 per­cent of all U.S. births are to teens.

What do th­ese num­bers tell us? First, whether we ap­prove or not, our teens are hav­ing sex. By the time they turn 19, seven in ten teenagers have had sex at least once. And sec­ond, it tells us that when they have sex, they are not us­ing pro­tec­tion.

But there’s more: Preg­nancy isn’t the only con­se­quence. Ac­cord­ing to the fed­eral Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion, one in four teen girls has a sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion. The con­se­quences of their ac­tions can fol­low them for a life­time. If that does not con­sti­tute a pub­lic health cri­sis, I don’t know what does.

As par­ents, as a coun­try, we don’t want our kids to be­come par­ents when they aren’t fin­ished be­ing chil­dren them­selves. Amer­ica’s teenage girls and boys should be al­lowed to have their child­hood; there is more than enough time for them in the fu­ture to bear the other re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of adult­hood and be par­ents. Par­ent­ing is too im­por­tant to be left to chance. And the fact is that it doesn’t have to be.

Sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion for teens that is founded on med­i­cally ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion, that is ab­sti­nence-based but also teaches con­tra­cep­tion, has been proven to be ef­fec­tive in pre­vent­ing un­in­tended preg­nan­cies. Teach­ing our teens about sex isn’t what makes them have or not have sex. Teach­ing our teens about sex is how they learn about preven­tion. It’s how they learn to pro­tect them­selves from sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tion and dis­ease. It’s how they learn to stay safe. Sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion works to re­duce teen preg­nan­cies. It works to help re­duce the trans­mis­sion of sex­u­ally trans­mit­ted in­fec­tions. And it works to help keep teens healthy and help en­able them to plan healthy fam­i­lies.

A Na­tional Cam­paign to Pre­vent Teen and Un­planned Preg­nancy anal­y­sis of more than 115 stud­ies con­ducted to mea­sure the ef­fec­tive­ness of teen ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams found that ab­sti­nence-only pro­grams did not help our teens to ab­stain or de­lay the age at which they had sex.

Planned Par­ent­hood ed­u­ca­tors teach teens and their par­ents to be­come smart about sex­u­al­ity, and about how to talk to each other about sex­ual and re­pro­duc­tive health. We have peer ed­u­ca­tor pro­grams that train teens to talk to their peers about sex­ual health. At some of our health cen­ters, we of­fer spe­cial “teen only” hours to help make teens comfortable and wel­come. We spon­sor par­ent-teen nights to help fa­cil­i­tate open, hon­est and full com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween teens and their par­ents. We have pro­grams tar­geted at par­ents to help give them the skills, re­sources and con­fi­dence they need to talk to their chil­dren. And, we have pro­grams for preg­nant and par­ent­ing teens that pro­vide a sup­port­ive en­vi­ron­ment and skills train­ing to cope with the chal­lenges of par­ent­hood and ado­les­cence.

For the past eight years, more than $1.5 bil­lion of tax­pay­ers’ money has been wasted on ab­sti­nence-only pro­grams that don’t work. There is a lot at stake right now for Amer­i­can teenagers. Th­ese poli­cies must change with the next ad­min­is­tra­tion. When it comes to sex­u­al­ity ed­u­ca­tion, there should be no de­bate. The only way our chil­dren can be pre­pared is to be in­formed; this isn’t about ide­ol­ogy, it’s about the health and safety of our kids. Ce­cile Richards is pres­i­dent of Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­ica.

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