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“Abstinence only” doesn’t work. No, really!

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I’ve been hearing all over the place that the Centers for Disease Control are reporting that teen pregnancy rates have dropped like crazy, to their lowest levels since 1946:

“There has been a phenomenal drop in the last two years,” said report lead author Brady Hamilton, a statistician with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Vital Statistics. “It went down 9 percent between 2009 and 2010 and that’s big.”

Folks are clear that this doesn’t mean that kids aren’t having sex. Dr. Lawrence Friedman, the director of adolescent medicine at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, reports that the CDC sees a drop in teen sexual intercourse, but:

“That doesn’t mean there is less sexual activity. There’s plenty of sexual activity — oral sex and mutual masturbation and other things that don’t produce pregnancies.”

There’s also increased use of contraception, Friedman said. “In addition, there is more awareness of the negative effects of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases,” he said.

But here’s the totally shocking part: The states with the highest teen pregnancy rates? Are those with abstinence-only policies. Mississippi tops the lot of them.

I wrote about teen pregnancy back in the day for the Chicago Tribune, and I’m repeating myself a little here, but the truth hasn’t changed a lot in the meantime:

The imperative to reproduce has been getting young Americans in trouble since before there was an America: At the time of the Revolution, some 30% of colonial brides were pregnant on their wedding day, and historians posit that more than a third of births were outside of marriage.

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I try very hard not to demonize or belittle teen moms — we need to value all babies, and prepare all those who plan to give birth to be the best mothers they can possibly be. What might have happened in error can result in great joy, and let’s not forget: One teen mom, who married her boyfriend after she fell pregnant, went on to raise our current President. So, you know. We should step lightly.

But all the respect in the world can’t change the fact that giving birth at a really young age is just plain hard: 73% of teenage moms come from poor or low-income families, according to Planned Parenthood; the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy reports that some 80% of teen fathers don’t marry their children’s mothers. Two-thirds of families started by single moms are poor.

We need to give all young people all the tools they need to avoid pregnancy — not just the tools we may personally agree with — and when another girl gets pregnant anyway, we need to figure out how to provide her with all the support (familial, social, and yes, governmental) she needs to take care of herself and her child.

Oh! And what say we involve the fathers, too?

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Kids have sex. It has always been thus. But it turns out that if you arm them with information, they are far less likely to actually get pregnant. And it’s not a whole lot better to withhold information from them if the do get pregnant, either.

Knowledge, as they say, is power. Just ask the girls in Mississippi.

Crossposted at Emily L. Hauser In My Head.

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