New CDC Data Prove Importance of Comprehensive Sex Ed
Last Thursday, the Center for Disease Control released new data indicating that between 2006 and 2010, approximately 60% of sexually active teenagers ages 15 to 19 were using “highly effective methods” of contraception, which include IUDs or implants, the pill or patch, and injectable contraception. Compared to 1995, this finding represents a 26% increase in users of highly effective methods, coupled with a 7% decrease in those who used “no method.” The CDC also reported last week that teenage girls are waiting longer to have sex: Over the same time period, 57% of girls ages 15 to 19 said they had never had sex—an increase of nearly 10 percentage points from 1995.
This new data about contraceptive use and the onset of sexual activity is particularly relevant considering that in 2010 the teenage birthrate fell to 34.3 births per 1,000 women 15 to 19 years old. This is the lowest teen birthrate since the U.S. government began tracking these statistics in 1940, although the United States still has one of the highest teen birth rates in the industrialized world.
At the national level, these statistics imply that our youth are becoming increasingly educated and taking responsibility for their health. But the state-by-state breakdowns teach us very important lessons about the need for comprehensive sexuality education standards in schools. Due to the fact that sex education curricula are developed and enforced at the state level, the access that teens have to accurate information about healthy relationships, sexually transmitted infections, family planning, and body image varies in 50 different ways.
This variety is mirrored in state teen birth rates. In New Hampshire, teen birth rates are 15.7 per 1,000 while in Mississippi they have reached 55 births per 1,000. Not coincidentally, Mississippi does not require any sex education in school and, in the instances when it is taught, schools must adhere to an abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum. Conversely, New Hampshire requires comprehensive sex ed. New Mexico has the second highest teen birth rate and also has no sex education requirements.
Sexuality is addressed seriously and candidly in Jewish texts and tradition. Ranging from the Song of Songs, the most sexually explicit writing in the Torah, to very specific discussions of the laws of family, our holy texts recognize and often celebrate sexuality as a crucial and sacred part of life. Furthermore, our modern practice of Judaism views sexuality, and its ultimate goal of a healthy and committed relationship, as a matter of religious concern. It is our responsibility as a movement to ensure that our youth approach decisions about sexual behavior equipped with both accurate information about sexual health and an understanding of and appreciation for Reform Jewish values regarding sexuality.
The editors of the CDC study recognize a similar imperative to provide teens with comprehensive sex education. As they wrote in the study, achieving further reductions in the teen pregnancy rate “will require a comprehensive approach to sexual and reproductive health that includes continued promotion of delayed sexual debut and increased use of highly effective contraception among sexually experienced teens.” They specifically called on schools and community organizations to “provide evidence-based sexual and reproductive health education.”
Take Action Today: Urge your Members of Congress to co-sponsor the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act, which sets nationwide standards for sexuality education to ensure that all teens in the U.S. receive medically accurate and evidence-based sex education.
Image courtesy of CNN