Teen pregnancy rate increases after decade-long decline

Image of shirt that reads: Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder
Thanks abstinence only education!

A new report from the Guttmacher Institute shows that the teen pregnancy rate has risen for the first time in more than a decade. And guess who’s to blame…

These new data from the Guttmacher Institute are especially noteworthy because they provide the first documentation of what experts have suspected for several years, based on trends in teens’ contraceptive use–that the overall teen pregnancy rate would increase in the mid-2000s following steep declines in the 1990s and a subsequent plateau in the early 2000s. The significant drop in teen pregnancy rates in the 1990s was overwhelmingly the result of more and better use of contraceptives among sexually active teens. However, this decline started to stall out in the early 2000s, at the same time that sex education programs aimed exclusively at promoting abstinence–and prohibited by law from discussing the benefits of contraception–became increasingly widespread and teens’ use of contraceptives declined.

Heather Boonstra, Guttmacher Institute senior public policy associate, calls the reversal “deeply troubling.”

“It coincides with an increase in rigid abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, which received major funding boosts under the Bush administration….Fortunately, the heyday of this failed experiment has come to an end with the enactment of a new teen pregnancy prevention initiative that ensures that programs will be age-appropriate, medically accurate and, most importantly, based on research demonstrating their effectiveness.”

I’m a bit less optimistic than Boonstra – because while we have made inroads in terms of limiting funding for abstinence-only education, we still have a cultural battle ahead of us.

Join the Conversation

  • Thomas

    Let’s step through the looking glass to how conservative culture warriors see it:
    in the years before 2000, teens were increasingly able to have sex without incurring the consequences of STIs and pregnancy. The conservative culture warriors don’t want that. They want abstinence, and they want less pregnancy and disease only if it’s through less sexual activity.
    Consequences are making a comeback. So, for feminists and progressives, this is a complete loss. For our enemies, it’s good news-bad news.
    I’m not cynical. I understand them. I’m working on a long blog post about this right now, that may be ready in a few days.

  • Phenicks

    IN essence, parents; pro-choice and pro-life your teen WILL have sex. The only thing you could do about it is to either educate your teen on how to protect themselves from infections/diseases spread through sex and unplanned pregnancy (because uh if your teen WANTS to get pregnant- there’s nothing you can do to prevent that from happening) OR sit back and hope your teen wont get pregnant/impregnante someone or get an STI/STD/. Thats it folks, two options and the OP confirms option 2 is not the reliable option.

  • Toongrrl

    I don’t know why people don’t like teens to have sex, well maybe cause some of us are still virgins. Do they want us to be dusty in our pants?

  • Thomas

    I don’t think it’s inevitable that teens have sex. However, I think that just telling teens not to have sex, or that doing so will make them sick or pregnant of send them to hell, is not an effective way to effect that result.
    Some teens don’t want partnered sex. Some are asexual; some are taking their time to work things out. I’m not against parents communicating values about sex– in fact, I’m very much for it! Including “we believe you should not have sex.” And, media hype aside, most kids largely absorb their parents’ values.
    My values are, “sex is wonderful, it should be done when ready, safely, with trustworth and age-appropriate partners.” I have a long post about how I want to teach my kids to figure out for themselves what kind of intimacy they are ready for, here.
    Some parents have an idea in their head that ignorance and doomsaying are effective. They’re not, and they have a huge downside: unpreparedness. Also, a lot of parents are locked into a model that is penetrocentric and binary: that sex is one thing and kids either “do it” or don’t. I think that’s all shit. Teens become adults by increments, and they become sexual adults by increments as well. To me, a long timeline between first kiss and PIV (for those teens who ever want PIV; some will only have same sex partners, some no partners and some opposite sex partners where due to anatomy or preference PIV is not part of the picture), with lots of partnered activity in stages in between with time to learn and discuss and think about their own physical and emotional well-being and needs, is a GOOD THING!

  • JJ

    …as much as I -DON’T- want to be the person to cry “correlation does not equal causation!” (because my intuitions agree with you, Jessica, 100%), I do think we should be careful in interpreting these results. I don’t doubt that the unwise decision to fund abstinence-only education contributed to this, but what other factors may have led to an increase in teen pregnancy? Does abstinence-only education really explain all of the variance?
    The report does say that in 2005, the teenage pregnancy rate was the lowest it had been since 1990, but the next year it shot up for the first time in more than a decade (and preliminary data from 2007 suggest that the rates may have continued increasing at the same rate during that year). I wonder, why is that? When did Bush’s policies related to access to reproductive contraception, funding for abstinence only education, etc., come into play? Was the decline that occurred during his first term simply due to policies that remained from Clinton’s era that he had not touched yet, or have his anti-sex policies been present since his first term?
    (Apologies for all the hypothetical and non-hypothetical questions; I’ve clearly blocked his two terms from my memory…) :)

  • vegkitty

    I would just like to remind everyone that not ALL teens have sex, and it’s not necessarily because they want to stay “pure.” I’m a 20 year old virgin, entirely because of circumstance.
    That said, I think the reactions to teen sex are very similar to those of teen drinking/drug use. It’s easy to say, “Don’t drink until you’re of age, and don’t do drugs ever.” But teens, being not only teens, but human beings, will react negatively to being told what to do. If you say, “Drinking and drugs have consequences. If you choose to do either, please be careful and don’t drive while under the influence,” they’ll take the message more to heart since, they’re not being TOLD what to do.
    My apologies if this doesn’t make sense… it’s early morning for me.

  • Rhoanna

    The reporting of this in most news sources misses a few crucial facts. ‘Teens’ includes 18 and 19 year olds (age being at the time pregnancy ended); in fact, 18-19 was were almost all of the increase was (TIME, original report). Furthermore, 2/3 of teen pregnancies are 18-19 year olds anyway. Now it’s certainly debatable whether 18-19 year olds getting pregnant is good, but they’re legally adults, can freely marry in most states, etc. It’s a more complicated matter than teens of all ages being more likely to get pregnant.

  • Steveo

    Although I would agree that the correlation between these stats and abstinence only education suggests a cause, I don’t think its responsible to include it. By looking at the small rises in pregnancy rate in 2006 from 2005 compared to the average change per year from 1990-2005 you get a change that could arguably just be noise in the data. And since a plot of the pregnancy rate from 1990-2006 is not shown, we have no idea whether the pregnancy rate was on a reasonably steady decline (they mentioned a plateau in the 2000’s, but didn’t mention what sort of year by year fluctuation there was. Maybe the data supports Jessica’s conclusion, but from the data shown in the Guttmacher Institute news release, I would not feel comfortable making that claim very strongly.