I am not one to single out any one teenager for a public scolding, nor to rely on gossip to make a point, but the recent rumour that the engagement between Levi Johnston and Bristol Palin has been called off because Johnston is reported to have gotten a second young woman pregnant begs comment. There is a deeply held myth that if we talk about sex in our schools and make birth control available, more children will become sexually active.
This is simply not true.
As I report in a recent book of mine, "Too Safe For Their Own Good: How Risk and Responsibility Help Teens Thrive", every rigorous study of teenage sexual behavior, including those by the Centre for Disease Control in Atlanta, shows that rates of sexual activity among young people has been either constant or declining over the past four decades. Even when we factor in oral sex, the results still paint a picture of our children doing "it" as often, and likely less often, than their parents. And this during a time of supposedly liberal sexual values. Even better news is that rates of teen pregnancy are down. Way down.
These facts make it particularly troublesome that our politicians don't come out and say clearly that good sex education in our schools and easy access to birth control, especially condoms, is the best thing we can do to keep our children safe.
Those who preach abstinence are hiding their heads in the sand. It didn't work when we adults had supposedly stronger "family values", whatever those are supposed to be, and it won't work now. Kids don't have sex because they hear someone talk about it. Having been a teen once, I can recall figuring out that I was interested in that part of my anatomy all on my own.
If parents really want to keep children from getting pregnant then let's be practical. I work with far too many at-risk youth (like Johnston and Palin) to be anything but practical. Kids need good information and good access to sexual health. They are going to be just as sexually active as their parents (and yes, we were very sexually active!). Today's lower rates of pregnancy tell us kids who get what they need to be sexually responsible and knowledgeable don't get pregnant.
It's a shame that there are still young people like Johnston and Palin who don't have parents with the commonsense to hand them a box of condoms and to talk with them frankly about what they are likely feeling.