Parade Magazine asked its readers if abstinence-only-until-marriage programs should continue and the overwhelming response, 85 percent so far, says no. Voting is still open, so make sure your opinion is heard. Currently the Department of Health and Human Services is trying to do an end run on Congress and entice 25 states that have rejected abstinence-only to rejoin the program before the Bush Administration leaves office. Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin have said they support abstinence-only-until-marriage programs and have attacked Sen. Obama and Sen. Biden for supporting age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education.
teen pregnancy seems pervasive. Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s
pregnant daughter, Bristol, and pop star Britney Spears’ sister, Jamie Lynn,
both now 17, made recent headlines. And a high school in Gloucester, Mass.,
drew national attention when nearly 20 students became pregnant. In fact, after
dropping steadily for a decade, teen birth rates rose slightly.
too soon to say if this is an aberration or signals a trend, but we do know
that American girls are far more likely to get pregnant than teens in other
developed nations. The U.S. teen-pregnancy rate is about 7.5%. According to figures
from the Alan Guttmacher Institute, that’s almost twice as high as Britain and
four times higher than Sweden or France. Why? “American adolescents are as
likely to have sex as European teenagers but less likely to use contraception,”
says Kristin Moore of Child Trends, a nonpartisan research center that studies
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U.S. spends $2 billion annually on sex education, including $176 million in
federal money for abstinence-only programs. An analysis last year by the
nonpartisan National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found
that two-thirds of programs that included information on both abstinence and
contraception had positive results. The study found no strong evidence that
abstinence-only programs work. Tell Us: Should abstinence-only sex ed
Though boys and young men are often an afterthought in discussions about reproductive and sexual health, two recent studies make the case that they are in need of such knowledge and that it may predict when and how they will parent.
It’s easy to understand why so many programs and resources to prevent teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) focus on cisgender young women: They are the ones who tend toget pregnant.
But we cannot forget that young boys and men also feel the consequences of early parenthood or an STI.
I was recently reminded of the need to include boys in sexual education(and our tendency not to) by two recent studies, both published in the Journal of Adolescent Health. The first examined young men’s knowledge about emergency contraception. The second study found that early fatherhood as well as nonresident fatherhood (fathers who do not live with their children) can be predicted by asking about attitudes toward pregnancy, contraception, and risky sexual behavior. Taken together, the new research sends a powerful message about the cost of missed opportunities to educate boys.
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The first study was conducted at an adolescent medicine clinic in Aurora, Colorado. Young men ages 13 to 24 who visited the clinic between August and October 2014 were given a computerized survey about their sexual behavior, their attitudes toward pregnancy, and their knowledge of contraception. Most of the young men who took the survey (75 percent) had already been sexually active, and 84 percent felt it was important to prevent pregnancy. About two-thirds reported having spoken to a health-care provider about birth control other than condoms, and about three-quarters of sexually active respondents said they had spoken to their partner about birth control as well.
Yet, only 42 percent said that they knew anything about emergency contraception (EC), the only method of birth control that can be taken after intercourse. Though not meant to serve as long-term method of contraception, it can be very effective at preventing pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex. Advance knowledge of EC can help ensure that young people understand the importance of using the method as soon as possible and know where to find it.
Still, the researchers were positive about the results. Study co-author Dr. Paritosh Kaul, an associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, told Kaiser Health News that he was “pleasantly surprised” by the proportion of boys and young men who had heard about EC: “That’s two-fifths of the boys, and … we don’t talk to boys about emergency contraception that often. The boys are listening, and health-care providers need to talk to the boys.”
Even though I tend to be a glass half-empty kind of person, I like Dr. Kaul’s optimistic take on the study results. If health-care providers are broadly neglecting to talk to young men about EC, yet about 40 percent of the young men in this first study knew about it anyway, imagine how many might know if we made a concerted effort.
The study itself was too small to be generalizable (only 93 young men participated), but it had some other interesting findings. Young men who knew about EC were more likely to have discussed contraception with both their health-care providers and their partners. While this may be an indication of where they learned about EC in the first place, it also suggests that conversations about one aspect of sexual health can spur additional ones. This can only serve to make young people (both young men and their partners) better informed and better prepared.
Which brings us to our next study, in which researchers found that better-informed young men were less likely to become teen or nonresident fathers.
For this study, the research team wanted to determine whether young men’s knowledge and attitudes about sexual health during adolescence could predict their future role as a father. To do so, they used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (known as Add Health), which followed a nationally representative sample of young people for more than 20 years from adolescence into adulthood.
The researchers looked at data from 10,253 young men who had completed surveys about risky sexual behavior, attitudes toward pregnancy, and birth control self-efficacy in the first waves of Add Health, which began in 1994. The surveys asked young men to respond to statements such as: “If you had sexual intercourse, your friends would respect you more;” “It wouldn’t be all that bad if you got someone pregnant at this time in your life;” and “Using birth control interferes with sexual enjoyment.”
Researchers then looked at 2008 and 2009 data to see if these young men had become fathers, at what age this had occurred, and whether they were living with their children. Finally, they analyzed the data to determine if young men’s attitudes and beliefs during adolescence could have predicted their fatherhood status later in life.
After controlling for demographic variables, they found that young men who were less concerned about having risky sex during adolescence were 30 percent more likely to become nonresident fathers. Similarly, young men who felt it wouldn’t be so bad if they got a young woman pregnant had a 20 percent greater chance of becoming a nonresident father. In contrast, those young men who better understood how birth control works and how effective it can be were 28 percent less likely to become a nonresident father.9:45]
Though not all nonresident fathers’ children are the result of unplanned pregnancies, the risky sexual behavior scale has the most obvious connection to fatherhood in general—if you’re not averse to sexual risk, you may be more likely to cause an unintended pregnancy.
The other two findings, however, suggest that this risk doesn’t start with behavior. It starts with the attitudes and knowledge that shape that behavior. For example, the results of the birth control self-efficacy scale suggest that young people who think they are capable of preventing pregnancy with contraception are ultimately less likely to be involved in an unintended pregnancy.
This seems like good news to me. It shows that young men are primed for interventions such as a formal sexuality education program or, as the previous study suggested, talks with a health-care provider.
Such programs and discussion are much needed; comprehensive sexual education, when it’s available at all, often focuses on pregnancy and STI prevention for young women, who are frequently seen as bearing the burden of risky teen sexual behavior. To be fair, teen pregnancy prevention programs have always suffered for inadequate funding, not to mention decades of political battles that sent much of this funding to ineffective abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Researchers and organizations have been forced to limit their scope, which means that very few evidence-based pregnancy prevention interventions have been developed specifically for young men.
Acknowledging this deficit, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Adolescent Health have recently begun funding organizations to design or research interventions for young men ages 15 to 24. They supported three five-year projects, including a Texas program that will help young men in juvenile justice facilities reflect on how gender norms influence intimate relationships, gender-based violence, substance abuse, STIs, and teen pregnancy.
The availability of this funding and the programs it is supporting are a great start. I hope this funding will solidify interest in targeting young men for prevention and provide insight into how best to do so—because we really can’t afford to forget about the boys.
A Colorado state senator, whose re-election race in November will likely determine whether Republicans retain control of the chamber, is sponsoring anti-choice legislation that could very well harm her bid in a swing district, state observers say.
State Sen. Laura Woods (R-Westminster) was a sponsor of a so-called personhood bill that would give legal rights to a fetus. The bill aimed to ban abortion in much the same way as three failed “personhood” ballot initiatives in Colorado would have outlawed it.
The bill, which is awaiting committee action and is referred to as “A Woman’s Right to Accurate Health Care Info Act,” ensures “women have the opportunity to see or forego [sic] the opportunity to see the ultrasound.”
Woods sponsored similar so-called personhood and ultrasound bills last year, and both went down in committee.
Colorado has a Democratic governor, and the state house is likely to remain under Democratic control, state observers say. Losing Woods’ state senate seat would leave the GOP a minority in that chamber, with Democrats controlling 18 of 34 seats if Woods can’t secure re-election.[
Professor Robert D. Loevy, professor emeritus of political science at Colorado College, told Rewire that Woods’ anti-choice positions could hurt her in the upcoming general election—if she sticks with them.
“Her anti-abortion actions will make her popular among the Republicans who tend to go to caucuses and vote in primaries and who tend to be very conservative and anti-abortion,” Loevy said. “But when you get to the general election, being anti-abortion can be detrimental to you, particularly in a swing district.”
Woods took strong anti-choice positions during her primary run in 2014, and she has not moved away from them.
During her 2014 primary, Woods shared a Facebook post comparing her Republican opponent, Lang Sias, to Kermit Gosnell, a rogue abortion provider serving a life sentence. Woods apologized for sharing the post.
After defeating Sias, Woods moved on to the general election, where she won her seat by about 650 votes—a 1 percent margin—against then-state Sen. Rachel Zenzinger (D), who is running against Woods again this year.
Woods, during her 2014 general election campaign, didn’t back away from her staunch anti-choice stances, hiring a campaign consultant with ties to Colorado’s failed “personhood” amendments.
Her support of a “personhood” abortion ban on Colorado’s 2014 ballot caused one local libertarian blogger, who normally supports conservative candidates, to write that he would not vote for her.
Asked to comment on whether Woods has backed away from her anti-choice positions during her time in office, Karen Middleton, director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado, points to a Facebook post shared by Woods with the comment “interesting,” two days after three people were killed at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs.
Woods’ post depicted Guy Fawkes, who tried to blow up the House of Lords in England in the name of enhancing religious freedom for Catholics in the 1600s. Under a drawing of Fawkes was the quotation, “The mind of a slave asks is it legal? The mind of a free man asks is it right?” The post has since been deleted.
“Senator Woods has held extreme anti-choice views for a long time, but she really put them into words when she blamed Planned Parenthood for the domestic terrorism attack at the clinic in Colorado Springs,” Middleton told Rewire, referring to the Fawkes post. “Between advocating violence against doctors and patients and her sponsorship of both personhood and mandatory transvaginal ultrasound bills, we’re sure voters will hold her accountable in the next election. As will we.”
“If you’ve looked at my voting record at all, what you will know is I’m an independent thinker,” Woods told Denver Post reporter John Frank in January. “I bucked my leadership, I bucked the party, I bucked the caucus … if it didn’t line up with my principles or my district.”