The Importance of Sex-Ed and Planned Parenthood in Today’s Day and Age
The recent rise of conservatism in the US has reopened the debate surrounding comprehensive, evidence-based sexual education and organizations such as Planned Parenthood. The current stigma around sexual health topics, especially those of abortion and contraceptives, are only part of the reason that the US ranks first among developed nations in rates of both teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Some argue that sex education that covers safe sexual practices (such as condom use) sends a mixed message to students and promotes sexual activity. This view is shared by the US government, as shown by legislation such as the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA), Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE), and Title V, Section 510 of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (welfare reform). The central message of these programs is to delay sexual activity until marriage, and until recently, federal funding regulations prevented most of these programs from including information about contraception or safer-sex practices. According to proponents of this idea, an abstinence-based curriculum that discourages sexual activity until marriage would, in theory, prevent teen pregnancy and the spread of STIs.
Numerous studies suggest otherwise. Some studies point to the inefficacy of abstinence-based sex ed, while others show that it may even increase teen pregnancy rates in some areas. As pointed out by the Society for Adolescent Medicine, “the abstinence-only approach is characterized by the withholding of information and is ethically flawed, promoting abstinence behavior through emotion (such as romantic notions of marriage, moralizing, and fear of STDs) and by spreading scientifically incorrect information.” A Congressional committee report found evidence of major errors and distortions of public health information in common abstinence-only curriculum. The reason, then, that abstinence-based sex ed is ineffective is that it may actually be promoting irresponsible, high-risk teenage behavior: it prevents teens from gaining reproductive knowledge and sound decision-making practices when it should be giving them the tools to make educated decisions regarding their reproductive health.
A study conducted by scientists at the University of Georgia concludes that, “The effect of presenting inadequate or incorrect information to teenagers regarding sex, pregnancy, and STD protection is long-lasting as uneducated teens grow into uneducated adults: almost half of all pregnancies in the U.S. were unplanned in 2001. Of these three million unplanned pregnancies, ∼1.4 million resulted in live births, ∼1.3 million ended in abortion, and over 400,000 ended in a miscarriage at a financial cost (direct medical costs only) of ∼$5 billion in 2002.”
They conclude that the difference in teen pregnancy rates between the US and other developed countries is caused by the difference in sex education, especially with regard to contraception and the prevention of STDs. There is greater and easier access to reproductive health information for everyone in Europe, which is largely due to “a societal openness and comfort in dealing with sexuality, pragmatic governmental policies, and less influence by special interest groups,”1 such as the religious conservative population in America.
A result of these studies was the introduction of a “Labor-Health and Human Services, Education and Other Agencies” appropriations bill, including a total of $114 million for a new evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative for fiscal year 2010 that was signed into law in December 2009. Despite the overwhelming evidence proving that abstinence-based sexual education is ineffective, further amendments to this act allowed the legislators of individual states to choose between the evidence-based sex-ed program ($114 million funding plan) and the abstinence-based program ($250 million funding plan).
But the consequence was that certain states chose the abstinence-only option, putting their youth at risk for higher teen pregnancy and STD rates.
Organizations like Planned Parenthood exist to combat this consequence. People in regions without adequate reproductive information can get the help they need without the stigma that would normally exist in their community. Indeed, many women describe getting an abortion or other service at a Planned Parenthood clinic as a relatively informative, easy, and stress-free process, not including the protesters outside that shame people for entering the clinic.
Besides abortion, Planned Parenthood provides many services pertaining to reproductive health, including STD/cancer screening/treatment/referral, pregnancy testing and services, birth control (including emergency contraceptives), HIV services, LGBTQ services (including hormone therapy for transgender patients), general health services, and patient education (which provides clear, up-to-date information about sexual and reproductive health). The aim of providing these services is to reduce the need for abortion and promote reproductive literacy.
Reproductive health clinics and evidence-based sex-ed programs are instrumental in creating a sex-positive environment where people are comfortable discussing their sexuality and seeking proper counsel for their reproductive health.