- The Washington Times - Friday, July 16, 2004

Abstinence and contraceptive use have been equally successful in reducing teen pregnancy between 1991 and 2001, according to a study released yesterday.

“We were surprised, and we were sort of happy to hear that we’re making good progress in both areas,” said John Santelli, lead author of the study conducted primarily by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researchers.

“It clearly suggests that whatever the nation is doing is working.”

The results, which attribute 53 percent of the decrease to increased abstinence and 47 percent to increased use of contraceptives, are based on analysis of three sets of data from girls ages 15 to 17 involving teen pregnancy, sexual behavior and contraceptive use.

Data on contraceptives, which showed increased use and use of more effective methods, came from the National Survey of Family Growth.

Data on teen girls’ sexual behavior came from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which shows the number of teens ages 15 to 17 who were sexually active decreased from 50.6 percent in 1991 to 42.7 percent in 2001.

Teen pregnancy data came from the National Center for Health Statistics, whose numbers show a decrease in pregnancy among girls ages 15 to 17 by almost one-third between 1991 and 2000, the latest year for which data was available.

The study “Can Changes in Sexual Behaviors Among High School Students Explain the Decline in Teen Pregnancy Rates in the 1990s?” was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

“As you probably know, there is disagreement among people of good will in this country about the best approach to preventing teenage pregnancy,” said Bill Albert, a spokesman for the nonprofit National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

“I think what one of the primary contributions of this study is that it indicates that convincing kids to delay sex is not an impossible mission, number one; and number two, for those kids who are sexually active, it is critically important for them to use contraception consistently and carefully.

“What it suggests … is that this country will need to take a two-pronged approach, one that clearly advocates abstinence as teens’ first and best choice but that also recognizes and encourages the use of contraception among those that are sexually active.”

Pia de Solenni, director of life and women’s issues for the Family Research Council, which advocates teen abstinence, said the study is also important because it supports the argument that abstinence education works.

“It’s not hype, it’s not just a sentiment and it’s not unscientific,” she said. “Now we have the data that says this works. … It just goes to show you that even though the focus has been largely on contraception, that where abstinence is promoted it does work.”

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