In the event that the reader has not yet heard the grim statistics, recently released data from the National Center for Health Statistics reveal that the birthrate among U.S. teenagers in 1990 had increased for the fourth consecutive year. In that year alone, 533,484 American girls under age 20 gave birth. An article by Mike Males that appeared in the March 1993 Kappan suggested that the concern about this increase and about teenage pregnancy and childbearing in general is misplaced and that the problem is overstated. In this paper I would like to discuss the problems with teen pregnancy within United States and other countries. In practice, too many young people receive their first exposure to sex education after they have become sexually active. Higher priority should thus be given to the early and timely provision of sexual health information. The issue of teaching young people about sex, contraception and sexuality is complex, and one about which adults hold strong and often opposing views. However, the social and personal costs of unprotected sex in young people are immense and policy makers must tackle the issue, including educating adults about young people's sexuality and sexual health needs. Despite exposure to a range of sources of information about sexual and reproductive health, many young people have less than adequate knowledge about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and how to use condoms and other contraception (Stephanie J. Ventura, Joyce A. Martin, and Thomas Dunn, pp. 85). Others may be seriously confused by the mixed messages they receive (Furstenberg, pp. 34), with media images about sex as a glamorous and desirable activity being contradicted by adult refusal to discuss sexual matters with young people, or to acknowledge adolescent sexuality.
Young people commonly describe the sex education they receive as "too little, and too late," with too much emphasis on the mechanics of sexual intercourse and reproduction, rather than issues such as confidence, self-esteem, non-sexual ways of showing affection, and the pleasurable, emotional and complex aspects of sexuality (Males, pp. 567). In the context of high rates of sexually transmitted infection and teenage pregnancy, young people have a right to explicit and unambiguous information about all these issues to enable them to make confident, informed choices about sex and to reduce the risks to their sexual and reproductive health.
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An open approach to sex in the broader community, as well as frank communication with parents, may be important determinants of the relatively good sexual health experienced by young people in western ?uropean countries such as the Netherlands. The Netherlands has the lowest reported rates of teenage sexual activity, and the oldest average age for first sexual intercourse (despite the fact that the legal age for intercourse is 12). Teenagers in Netherlands of both sexes are significantly more likely to cite commitment and love as their primary motivation for engaging in their first sexual experience, as opposed to physical attraction, peer pressure and opportunity, the primary reasons cited by young people in countries such as ?ngland (Males, pp. 568). However, the more rapid declines in teen pregnancy rates in western ?uropean countries than in the US, UK or Canada may owe a good deal to their general acceptance of teen sexuality and their provision of accessible and confidential contraceptive services (Caldas & Pounder, pp. 550). ...