The decline in teen pregnancy rates from 1991 to 1995 can largely be attributed to abstinence, according to a new study published in the Adolescent and Family Health (AHF), a journal of the Institute for Youth Development.
The Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) and the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (CPTP) have independently attributed this drop in teen pregnancy to increased use of contraceptives and improved contraceptives use. But authors of the AFH article claim that both of these studies were compromised since “the authors define teens ‘at risk for pregnancy’ as being those who had ever had sex, not just those who were sexually active during the year in question.”
Furthermore, the studies do not differentiate between single and married teens, a fact that, alone, causes concern in the medical community.
“I think it raises a little bit of a red flag,” said Dr. Eric Walsh, M.P.H. of the AGI and CPTP studies. “You’re dealing with two separate study groups although they are the same gender and the same age. Married teenagers have a very different set of consequences than single teens.”
Walsh, who practices in Loma Linda, Calif. called the AHF study, “very encouraging.”
“I’m afraid in our society that we’re going to make the endpoint for teen sexual health be the avoidance of pregnancy and the avoidance of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s),” he said.
Walsh contends that while those are great goals, that approach “does not address in any way the emotional scarring that can take place in a teenager. It does not speak to the issues of self-worth. It does not speak to the issues that this may lead to high-risk behavior long-term and the reality that contraceptives cannot prevent some STD’s like genital warts and genital herpes.”
Walsh believes there is an entire field of teen sexuality that should be studied regarding abstinence, including emotional and psychological differences, how abstinence affects a teenager’s entry into adulthood, and how being sexually active as a teenager affects divorce rates later in a teen’s life.
For now, the California physician will share the information with his adolescent patients.
“When I’m in clinic and I see a 13-year-oldI’d like to be able to say there is research that shows not engaging in sexual activity at all is very effective in reducing pregnancy and birthrates,” said Walsh. “I want to be able to tell her this is not just me preachinga scientific study backs this up.”
He points out that more than 50% of teenagers are still abstinent, especially before grade twelve.
“That young lady says, ‘Everybody’s doing it.'”
“I can say, ‘No, that’s not true. Everybody’s not doing it.'”