Teens and young adults often face many problems as they develop into sexually mature adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists teen pregnancy prevention as one of its top seven priorities.1 In 2015, the CDC reported a female adolescent fertility rate of 21.2 births per 1000 females ages 15-19 in the United States.2 Teenage parenthood is associated with several problems in the United States. Contrastingly, many countries in the European Union present lower adolescent birthrates. For instance, within Europe, Denmark has teen birthrates of 4.4 births per 1,000 teenage females and Switzerland has teen birthrates at 3.4 births per 1,000 teenage females.3
A comprehensive sexual education can decrease adolescent birthrates. Santelli and colleagues estimated that 86% of the decline in adolescent pregnancies between 1995 and 2002 was due to improved use of contraceptives. This improvement is thought to be a result of comprehensive models of sex education. Sex education has been shown to positively correlate with a delay in the onset of sexual activity and an increase in the likelihood that teens will use contraception if they choose to become sexually active.4 As an educator, it is your duty to arm your students with the knowledge needed to prevent unplanned teenage pregnancy.
The Lesson Plan
To best educate and prepare young people for a safe and fulfilling sexual career, your teachings should cover a variety of comprehensive topics including, but not limited to, the following: anatomy, puberty, gender identity, sexual orientation, body image, contraceptives, pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), sexual behavior, sexual abuse, and relationships. To prevent teen pregnancy, it is crucial that contraceptive methods and proper condom use be taught.
As an educator, it is important to take into account not only the local laws in place regarding sex education but also the cultural values of individual students and the influence these values may have on their beliefs. Some traditions and religions are more successful at discouraging contraceptive use than preventing sex itself. It is your responsibility to consider each students’ cultural values when developing a curriculum. It is not your job as an educator to instill values and beliefs about sex and sexuality in your students; rather, your duty is to simply relay accurate and useful information that can help students protect themselves against the potentially negative consequences of sex while embracing the positive aspects in a healthy way.
The (In)effectiveness of Abstinence-Only Programs
It has been proven through extensive scientific research that “abstinence-only” sex education does not prevent teen pregnancy. A study conducted by the University of Georgia found that abstinence-only programs have a positive correlation with teenage pregnancy rates. Even after the researchers accounted for control factors “such as socioeconomic status, teen educational attainment, ethnicity, and availability of Medicaid waivers for family planning services in each state,” the researchers still found that abstinence-only education corresponded to higher rates of teenage pregnancy and birth. States that teach comprehensive sex education by covering abstinence along with contraception and condom use have the lowest teen pregnancy rates.5
Abstinence-only programs often implement scare tactics in their curricula, such as showing graphic images of sexually transmitted diseases (STIs), to promote abstinence; they also tend to present idealized images of marriage for moral appeal so that students will aspire to wait until they have found “the one.” These programs do nothing to help teenage pregnancy, as their sole goal is to promote abstinence rather than provide education about safe sex and contraception. Abstinence-only programs rely on the assumption that students completing the program will remain chaste. Assuming that none of your students are having sex is an inaccurate and unrealistic assumption. The CDC reports that about 34% of high school students are sexually active.6 Additionally, another report compiled teenage pregnancy statistics and found that states with the highest rates of teenage pregnancy (in females aged 15-19) tend to have no sex education policies or that the states place emphasis on abstinence-only programs.7 By not educating teens about contraceptives, teens are put at a major disadvantage in terms of protection against STIs and teenage pregnancy, as it is evident that teens are still engaging in sex regardless of the types of sex education available in the state. Thus, for the purposes of preventing teen pregnancy, a comprehensive sex education must be taught. For more information on educating youth about sexuality and topic guidelines, please visit our comprehensive article on “Sex Education.”
Tips to Be an Effective Educator
Sexual education is a highly sensitive and important topic. As the messenger of this information, it is essential that you educate with a conscious and careful mindset. Here are a few tips on being an effective educator:
- Listen: Good teachers are also good listeners. This tip is an effective communication skill needed to gauge what your students currently believe and what they want to know through the questions they ask in class. For many students, the sexual education they receive at school may be the first accurate information they receive about sex.
- Be approachable: Some students may be hesitant to speak with a teacher about sex, especially if the educator seems uncomfortable talking about a subject or appears not to have enough time to answer the question. Since you may be the only reliable resource available to your students, it is crucial that you remain considerate and make yourself accessible.
- Be sincere: If you feel comfortable enough, be relatable and share your own experiences when appropriate.
- Overcome discomfort: Any sex educators overcome discomfort while discussing sex by having students submit anonymous questions and drawing from these submissions at random in order to facilitate a student-based discussion.
- Be sensitive: Students come from all types of socioeconomic, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Thus, the students you teach will likely have a vast range of ideas about sex and contraception. Remember to provide impartial, fact-based knowledge without instilling your own values.
Overall, your teachings can help reduce teenage pregnancy rates. By providing students with comprehensive, factual sexual education in a conscious, judgement-free manner, you as their teacher can best prepare students for a safe, fulfilling sexual career.
1.”Teen Pregnancy in the US.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention. US Department of Health and Human Services, 26 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 Mar. 2017.
2. Hamilton BE, Martin JA, Osterman MJK, et al. “Births: final data for 2014”. Natl Vital Stat Rep 2015; 64(12):1-64.
3. “Adolescent fertility rate (births per 1,000 women ages 15-19).” The World Bank: United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects. 2015.
4. Santelli, John S, et al. “Explaining Recent Declines in Adolescent Pregnancy in the United States: The Contribution of Abstinence and Improved Contraceptive Use.” American Journal of Public Health, Jan. 2007, pp. 150–156.
5. Stanger-Hall, Kathrin F., and David W. Hall. “Abstinence-Only Education and Teen Pregnancy Rates: Why We Need Comprehensive Sex Education in the U.S.”PLOS ONE. Public Library of Science, 14 Oct. 2011. Web. 7 Apr. 2017.
6. Kann, Laura. “Statistics: Sexual Activity.” ReCAPP: Statistics: Sexual Activity. Center for Disease Control, n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
7. Lowen, Linda. “Top 10 States With Highest Teenage Pregnancy and Birth Rates.” ThoughtCo. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.
Last Updated: 08 May 2017.