Last week, the Alan Guttmacher Institute released a report in which it claimed that the rate of teen pregnancy had increased in 2006. From AGI’s point of view, the alarm bells should be sounded since it was obviously caused by abstinence education, which – recently defunded – is currently up again for refunding.
While AGI does provide some of the best numbers available on abortion and related topics, one would do well to carefully evaluate their research since they are the research arm of Planned Parenthood, a group with a very pronounced agenda.
Nevertheless, when I first read about the report, I thought it was true. After all, when you take into account things like teen pregnancy pacts, the aggressive sexual media programming aimed at tweens and teens, how this demographic displays affection not only in public but in every social media available, and the increase in out of wedlock birth, to name a few factors, it seems completely plausible.
Fortunately, things are not as bad as they seem. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation provides a succinct debunking of the study. Significantly, he points out that the study included 18- and 19-year-olds in the group. Technically, yes, they are teens. But for the purpose of public policy in the United States, teens are minors, ages 13-17. In fact, the study found that the pregnancy rates for girls 14 and under actually dropped. As Rector notes, this same group was most directly impacted by abstinence education during the time period covered by the study. However, pregnancy among the adult teens increased dramatically. AGI combined the data to come up with a grabbing headline: “Teen pregnancy increases.”
Rector’s debunking aside, we are facing situations that will no doubt increase the rate of teen pregnancy in the coming years unless substantial changes take place. Trends like sexting (sending nude pictures of one’s self via text message) indicate that the social barriers that existed even a few years before have now disappeared for large segments of the population, starting with teens.
Laura Sessions Stepp, a journalist for The Washington Post, began uncovering this trend in a series of articles where she documented a normalization of sexual behaviors, like oral sex, among students well under the age of 18. Her research culminated in her book Unhooked: How Young Women Pursue Sex, Delay Love and Lose at Both. Various studies have also found that young girls often express regret after engaging in sexual intercourse and even experience coercion.
In her latest book, a collection of essays titled Getting Real: Challenging the Sexualisation of Girls, Melinda Tankard Reist presents the findings of several experts showing that children are deeply affected by the culture around them. As the culture becomes more permissive, it becomes more pervasive, especially in the lives of those who do not yet have the tools to separate reality or themselves from fiction. Unfortunately, these images of sexuality and women have little to do with reality.
Tankard Reist’s book is all the more interesting because it is not a collection of essays by social conservatives. Instead, the hyper sexualization of young people transcends political divides. For example, contributor Professor Clive Hamilton, known to be neither religious nor conservative, focuses most of his efforts on climate change and its effects. In his essay, “Good Is the New Bad: Rethinking Sexual Freedom,” he concludes, “Today the challenge is no longer to attack and tear down, but to rebuild a moral code that truly liberates and leads to fulfilled lives for both women and men,” which brings me to my conclusion.
For now, the AGI study is bogus. Realistically, however, it is only a question of time before those numbers reflect reality unless things change. Having read through an abundance of literature on the topic, I’ve been struck by one missing element. In all of these stories, whether we focus on girls, boys, or both, the family is either silent or uninvolved. There will always be unsavoury aspects to the world; we delude ourselves if we think that we can create some sort of Eden on earth. And while we should strive to improve the world, the family is the first locus of change and constancy. The family has the ability to prepare a child to interact with the world, no matter the challenges.
Maybe preparing young people for the adult world means having difficult, personal conversations with them; putting some serious filters on computers, etc. But the family, the first school, has the first opportunity to shape reality for children, starting with the relationship between the mother and father. When children experience authentic love between their parents, they set that as their gold standard. The allure of a world gone awry only makes sense when we don’t have a real experience with which to counter it.
Pia de Solenni writes from Seattle, Wash. She can be reached via Facebook and Twitter. This article first appeared on Headline Bistro and is reproduced with permission.