July 14, 2009
After 30 years of implementation and evaluation, there is no compelling evidence of contraceptive distribution and instruction programs having had a sustained and meaningful effect on "protective" behaviors-that is, "consistent and correct condom use" in classroom-type settings. As a public health intervention method, contraceptive programs have simply failed American youth: An STD epidemic currently exists amongst young people. One in four teenage girls nationwide has an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the U.S. continues to have the highest teen pregnancy rate in the industrialized world; and the toll from the negative psychological sequelae associated with adolescent sex is having an impact on mental health and the pursuit of life-goals.
Decreasing teen sexual activity is key to decreasing poverty, since single parenting is strongly linked to poverty. Research shows that the younger a teen starts having sex, the greater risk of pregnancy. A 2002 study from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy found that slmost half of all girls who have sex before age 15 get pregnant, The distribution of contraceptives does nothing to promote healthy relationships, healthy family formation, and marriage, where a greater probability for economic stability exists.
As well as increased risk of non-marital pregnancy, substance abuse and poor academic achievement are associated with teen sexual activity and can affect school drop-out rates. According to data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, those who were sexually active were three times more likely to be depressed than those who were abstinent. By contrast, teens who abstain from sex enhance their abilities to achieve short-term and long-term life goals.
Young people deserve a whole-person approach, including physical, emotional, and psychological dimensions. The primary prevention strategy, or risk-avoidance abstinence approach, provides for a health paradigm in which youth are better able to develop during adolescent years and from which society will benefit.
Moira Gaul is the Director of Women's and Reproductive Health at the Family Research Council.
This article originally appeared in Business Week on July 6, 2009.