"Sex education in North Carolina just legally changed for the better, but the economy might force that change to wait. The problem is that teenagers won’t wait, and the result is an economical and social disadvantage for women statewide.
Teenagers in the United States have sex. Realizing this, legislators in North Carolina recently passed a bill changing statewide sex education standards. Now sex education won’t just be about abstinence.
There are questions about where to cut money in the state budget, though, and these new changes are one of the bits of spending that might get cut. Despite the cuts, the new law requires that sex education “teaches about the effectiveness and safety of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy,” according to the General Assembly.
It cost the state $324 million in 2006, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, to pay for the 14,701 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 who got pregnant.
Compare that cost to North Carolina’s sex education efforts. This year the federal government supplied $1.13 million of our abstinence-only spending efforts, according to a letter sent in March to state superintendents from the Department of Public Instruction.
That’s under the now-expired “Title V” federal abstinence-only funding scheme, which President Obama let lapse. We didn’t quite match it. We never have.
For a more local perspective, Buncombe County has records 60 unintended teenage pregnancies for every 1,000 girls in that age range. Last year, the estimate was 419 teenage pregnancies, 130 of which were repeats, which are two pregnancies before ages 19.
That’s 130 girls in Buncombe County last year who got pregnant twice before even getting within a year of the legal drinking age. It’s an estimate, but it’s still shocking. It simply should not happen.
Two unintended pregnancies in the span of four years indicates that perhaps these young women are uneducated in proper birth control methods.
This can and should be fixed.
On a per-pregnancy basis, based on the above numbers, every teen pregnancy costs the state just a little more than $22,000. It would take more than 100 pregnancies worth of money to pay for the state sex education budgeting.
If Buncombe County had 319 teenage pregnancies in a year instead of 419, we could pay for the state’s entire outlay. If Buncombe County stopped not the first, but only the second unwanted pregnancy for teenagers in this county alone, it would recoup more money than is spent on sex education statewide.
Nationally, teen pregnancy costs more than $7 billion each year. A rough estimate puts annual teenage pregnancies at 750,000. Nationally, North Carolina is around average, just a little bit better maybe, in raw teen-pregnancy rates.
Not only is this not something we should try to be average in, it’s not something for which any state should settle.
The only problem is, when compared to other industrialized nations, the United States is a leader in teenage motherhood.
Approximately 50 in every 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 are teenage mothers. In the Netherlands, four teenagers out of every 1,000 are mothers.
In other words, more than 12 times as many teenage girls get pregnant in the United States than in the Netherlands.
Their sex education is better and more comprehensive. The connection is clear.
Teenage motherhood is self-perpetuating, too. Only one-third of teenage mothers get a high school diploma or an equivalent degree. Daughters of teenage mothers are also 22 percent more likely to be teenage mothers.
When a daughter of a teenage mother becomes a teenage mother, what are the chances she’s becoming pregnant for the second time?
Abstinence-only sex education advocates might say teaching teenagers how to use a condom would be like giving them a free pass to go out and have sex.
The fatal flaw in this argument is that these teenagers don’t need a pass to have sex. It’s obvious that they don’t because if they did, there wouldn’t be any teen pregnancies.
Abstinence-only sex education does not work. It’s a costly enterprise that tries to ignore America’s youth is having sex. Ignoring the obvious won’t make it go away. Ignoring the consequences won’t make them go away. Trying to prevent sex from happening will only make teenagers have more sex. After all, it’s easy for two people to rebel with just their bodies.
It’s just a good idea to try to put a barrier between them.
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