In a relatively quiet vote last week, the Republican-controlled state Senate passed a bill that would require reforms to sexual education in Wisconsin. If the bill passes, it will recommend teachers teach abstinence as the only certain way to avoid pregnancy. The bill would also require teacher to endorse the values of marriage and parental responsibility. This program, currently used in 26 states, does not require that educators inform students on the health benefits and correct usage of contraceptives. When asked to explain the reasoning for the bill, state Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, said, “This is small government at its best. This is about local control.”
Of course, the bill is not a declaration of small government as much as a thinly veiled attempt to legislate morality in the public school system. This would be forgivable if there was empirical evidence suggesting abstinence-only education prevented teenage pregnancy. There is none, and a serious possibility exists that Lazich’s bill will do more harm than good.
In a study published three weeks ago by the University of Georgia, the sexual education programs in 48 states were grouped into four categories based on the emphasis the programs placed on abstinence. Averaged together, the study concluded that states with the strongest emphasis on abstinence, including Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, had higher rates of teen pregnancy and teen birth than those with more comprehensive educational programs.
Does this prove that abstinence-only programs cause more teen pregnancies? Not necessarily. The differences between the rates of teen pregnancy are admittedly small, with the difference between the most comprehensive and most abstinence focused groups totaling only 15 pregnancies per 1,000 individuals. Additionally, the survey’s statistics on teen abortions were more erratic, without any clear correlation to be drawn. What they do prove, however, is that a greater focus on abstinence won’t reduce teen pregnancy.
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The goal of any effective sexual education program should be to reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. If those are the goals, then most reliable sources reveal that comprehensive plans are far more effective at preventing unwanted pregnancies. An article in the International Business Times revealed this week that education about contraception and safe sex in a curriculum correlated to a reduced rate of teen pregnancies in Milwaukee by 30 percent over a four-year period.
The reason these comprehensive plans are more effective is that they are more pragmatic; abstinence is the most effective way to avoid getting pregnant, just like not flying is the best way to avoid dying in a plane crash. The comprehensive approach acknowledges that teens will have sex whether or not their teachers tell them they shouldn’t, and while some pregnancies will happen regardless, a little common sense in this issue goes a long way.
The aforementioned UGA study reveals that other factors, such as the median family income and ethnic background, have much clearer correlative links to teen pregnancies than the education they receive in school. It’s no secret that poorer teenagers are more prone to unplanned pregnancies than those who are well-off. If the state GOP really wanted to fix this problem, it should address the disproportionate distribution of income in the state and the nation as a whole.
But the GOP will never do that. So at the very least, the Republicans could be adults and give kids comprehensive sex education.
Ryan Waal is a freshman majoring in English. Please send all feedback to email@example.com.