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From: James Wagoner, President, Advocates for Youth
Now That the Spotlight Is On Teen Pregnancy - -
Republicans and Democrats Need to Get Real About Sex Education
September 3, 2008

Bristol Palin’s pregnancy is not an electoral issue. Both presidential campaigns have said it is a family -- not a political -- matter.  And I agree.

But to the extent that this controversy has focused attention on teen pregnancy and our national policy on sex education, some good may yet come of this event.

The U.S. has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the developed world, because we refuse to get real when it comes to young people and sex. In a nation where 95% of citizens have sex before marriage, our official government policy on sex education is “abstinence-only-until-marriage”. The Bush administration has pumped over $1.5 billion into these programs over the last eight years, despite an exhaustive congressional evaluation showing that they have “no impact on teen behavior.”

Denial puts young people at risk -- whether they come from a Republican or a Democratic family.

A cookie-cutter, ideological approach to sex education cannot hope to succeed in a nation where young people are so diverse. “Life happens” and it has a way of challenging the folly of the motto “abstinence works every time”. What is missing from this truism is the real life addendum “except when it doesn’t” (70% of U.S. teens have had sex by the age of 19).

Abstinence-only programs, which prohibit information about condoms and birth control, illustrate the law of unintended consequences. Censoring information about contraception doesn’t keep young people from having sex; it just means that they probably won’t protect themselves when they do have sex.

Sex education is not a partisan issue. There is plenty of blame to go around for the current failed policy. While Republicans can be criticized for throwing their ideological embrace around these ineffective programs, Democrats can be blamed for continuing to fund them.

This controversy should be viewed in a policy, not a personal, context. We should take this opportunity to learn some key lessons. “Just say no” isn’t sufficient. Young people must be educated about abstinence and contraception. Public health policy should be based on science and evidence. America will never evolve into a sexually healthy nation until we get serious about prevention.

When all the hubbub dies down, let’s hope these are the lessons learned from Bristol Palin’s pregnancy.

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