Canada’s Teens Increasingly Abstinent

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

Lately it seems like many of us in the United States are in a tizzy over abstinence-only programs.

Lately it seems like many of us in the United States are in a tizzy over abstinence-only programs. Millions of our tax dollars—perhaps I’m a little touchy about that on today of all days—are being wasted on programs that simply don’t work. What is it that its supporters want? Studies showing that preaching abstinence only makes teens have unsafe sex because they don’t understand the options or consequences? Anecdotal evidence? Better yet, proof that people raised in a society where sex is openly discussed and reproductive health is taught at an early age will make intelligent decisions about their bodies?

No problem. Just look north.

According to recent figures from Statistics Canada as reported on, “43 percent of youth aged 15 to 19 said they had sexual intercourse at least once in 2005, compared to 47 per cent in 1996-97, the agency found, using two comparative surveys.” Alex McKay, of the non-profit organization Sex Information and Education Council of Canada in Toronto, told them that it was the culture surrounding sex in Canada that made these important conversations possible.

“Although in the U.S., American culture is saturated with superficial, titillating sexual media, the society has more restrictions on teen sex. Sometimes abstinence is the only sex-education program in schools. There is an attitude and that’s why their teen pregnancy rate is double of what Canada’s is and they have a higher rate of sexually transmitted infections.”

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I think McKay’s hit the condom on the resevoir tip, so to speak, especially in light of reports from Project Teen Canada, an ongoing survey of teens in the country to get a sense of the standard lifestyle. According to their latest report, teens are not only having less sex—56 percent say they don’t at all—but smoking, drinking, and using drugs on a less frequent basis as well.

So what’s Canada doing that America’s not? Talking openly about sexuality, and trusting that most teens can make good decisions. Once parents realize that normal adolescent life isn’t like Gossip Girl, maybe we can start talking with teens, instead of at them—and get some real, healthy results.

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