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Recent surveys have shown several positive trends concerning teenage sexual activity and contraceptive use. Statistics demonstrate a stabilization in teen sexual activity, a decline in teen pregnancy and an increase in contraceptive use at first intercourse. Yet the U.S. continues to face an adolescent reproductive health crisis. The rates of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted disease (STD) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections remain unacceptably high.
In searching for solutions to this crisis, some individuals and groups have focused on abstinence-only education. But while abstinence education is an essential part of sex education, it should not be the only lesson taught. Sex education should also teach teens how to protect themselves if they do become sexually active.
Rather than focusing on abstinence-only education, the U.S. must demonstrate a national commitment to remedying this adolescent crisis through a multi-pronged approach. Such an approach would invest in the development of young women by valuing their lives, inspiring them to seek better futures, enhancing self-sufficiency, preparing them for higher education, providing job training and ensuring access to health care.
We need to embark on a campaign to increase family planning funding, improve and expand access to contraceptives, and increase awareness of and access to emergency contraceptives. We must launch a national effort to require comprehensive sex education throughout our primary and secondary schools. This approach would protect teens by promoting abstinence while simultaneously providing teens with the contraceptive and STD/HIV prevention information they need to make responsible decisions if and when they become sexually active.