Abstinence Fund Watchdog Bites States: Teen Sex: Condoms Up, Births Down

Bill Alexander
June 1, 1998

Amid the current tinkerings, adjustments and rantings on how to put in place the $250-million abstinence-only education windfall, a new study by the National Center for Health Statistics shows the percentage of teenage girls having babies declined for the sixth year in a row nationwide. And, for the first time, it occurred among every major racial and ethnic group.

The overall rate has fallen 12 percent since 1991, but the birthrate for African-American teens is down 21 percent, to the lowest level ever reported. According to the study, the declines can be attributed to a combination of behavioral factors. Foremost, it says, “teenagers are more likely to use contraceptives at first intercourse, especially condoms.” In addition some teenagers, “particularly black teenagers,” are using injectable and implant contraceptives.

Although some 500,000 teens still give birth each year, NCHS reports that “the proportion of teenagers who are sexually experienced has stabilized, reversing the steady increases over the past two decades.”

The rate for Latinas remains the highest, but the new statistics show it falling for the first time, by 4.8 percent between 1995 and 1996.

Covering women ages 15 to 19, the study said teenage births represented about 12.6 percent of all births in 1996. Among whites, nearly 4 percent gave birth, compared with 10 percent of Latinas and 9 percent of African Americans.

“The biggest declines have been in the northern states of both the North and Midwest,” says Stephanie Ventura, principal researcher for the study.

Kristin Moore, president of Washington, D.C.-based Childtrends, has said the lower teen birthrates brings this country back in line with other modern industrial economies.
“On the surface this is good news,” says Natalie Williams, director of research for the Sacramento, Calif.-based Capital Rights Institute, a pro-life organization affiliated with the National Coalition for Abstinence Education. “But there is still a great deal of teen sexual activity out there, along with increased abortion rates. We don’t know the extent [to which] the abortion rights [people] have skewed the statistics.”

The National Center report was one of several new reports on teen sexual activity and child-rearing.

A study focusing on one California high school showed that the percentage of male students who reported using condoms increased significantly after the introduction of a condom availability course. The study by the RAND research group, based in Santa Monica, found no increase in either the percentage of students who had vaginal intercourse or in the percentage of sexually active students who had experienced three or more partners thus far in their lives. The RAND study said its findings “countered fears” that a school-based condom availability program might encourage students to engage in sexual activity.

Yet another California study, by the Oakland-based Applied Research Center of abstinence-only education programs, said that curricula in nearly 30 public schools contain “numerous life-threatening errors and omissions.” The study says the curricula “variously assert and imply” that condoms do not reduce the risk of HIV infection and other STDs.

As for what happens after birth, a study on the parenting component of the New Chance teen mom program revealed a generational change in attitudes about raising children. The young women, according to the study by the New York-based Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, were “often undermined” by their parents’ and grandparents’ unawareness of punishment techniques such as “time-out,” and were urged to use the “harsh, abusive, or overly permissive approaches” by which they and their parents were raised.

“I don’t want to hit my kid, but other people in my family want me to,” said one young mother.

Alexander, Bill. "Abstinence Fund Watchdog Bites States: Teen Sex: Condoms Up, Births Down." Youth Today, June 1998, p. 18.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.