That “Teen Sex” Irony No One Mentions

That “teen sex” ironies no one mentions

December 6, 2007

The media’s “experts” and program interests were crowing after a new report by the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics found the percentage of teens reporting sexual activity dropped slightly. “Adolescent birth rate at all-time low,” NBC News headlined. “A new study suggests that all the efforts to curb teen sex may be paying off.” The reduction in births to teens can be attributed to programs and education, declared self-interested “experts,” worshipfully quoted in the typical Associated Press, CBS News, and NBC News stories (among others) on July 13, 2007.

Education campaigns that started years ago are having a significant effect, said James Wagoner, president of Advocates for Youth, a Washington-based nonprofit group that focuses on prevention of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. “I think the HIV/AIDS epidemic and the efforts in the ’80s and ’90s had a lot to do with that,” Wagoner said of the improved numbers on teen sex, condoms and adolescent births. “We need to encourage young teens to delay sexual initiation and we need to make sure they get all the information they need about condoms and birth control,” he said.

Of course, that enthusiasm dampened a bit–along with pitches for more funding–when just released 2006 figures showed an increase in teen (along with adult) births.

Actually, a closer look at the statistics shows an interesting, crucial fact no one wanted to talk about, for obvious reasons. Here are the numbers of births to mothers under age 20 for the years interest groups referenced, 1990 through 2006… by marital status:

ALL of the reduction in teen births since 1990 was to MARRIED teens!

Births by mothers under age 20
Rate per 1,000 females age 15-19
Year
All
Unmarried
Married
Unmarried
Married
Percent unmarried
1990
533,483
360,645
172,838
43.8
410.4
67.6%
531,591
368,451
163,140
44.1
393.0
69.3%
517,775
365,039
152,736
43.1
373.4
70.5%
515,650
368,899
146,751
42.9
364.1
71.5%
509,810
393,685
116,125
45.1
292.5
77.2%
1995
512,115
387,179
124,936
43.7
319.5
75.6%
505,514
383,749
121,765
42.7
316.2
75.9%
493,341
385,802
107,539
42.4
283.7
78.2%
494,357
390,005
104,352
42.3
279.7
78.9%
485,104
383,222
101,882
41.0
277.6
79.0%
2000
477,509
377,585
99,924
39.9
276.8
79.1%
453,725
359,520
94,205
37.8
279.5
79.2%
432,808
347,279
85,529
36.1
297.0
80.2%
421,241
343,908
77,333
35.3
303.3
81.6%
422,043
348,791
73,252
35.1
347.2
82.6%
2005
421,315
352,003
69,312
34.9
292.5
83.5%
2006
441,832
372,826
69,006
36.5
284.0
84.4%
Change
-91,651
+12,181
-103,832
-17%
-31%
+25%

 

Source: National Center for Health Statistics, Births: Preliminary Data for 2006

The biggest reason, by far, that births by teenage mothers declined is that in 1990, 41% (410.4 per 1,000) of married teen women had babies, a proportion that plummeted to just; 28% in 2006. Like adults, fewer and fewer teens are getting married, and like adults, the teens who are getting married are having fewer babies. (Less “teenage sex” accomplished this? It is very unlikely that married teens aren’t having sex!)

What these interest groups backing abstinence, sex, and contraceptive education and services are saying (without admitting it), then, is that their campaigns aimed at unmarried high schoolers instead convinced mostly post-high-school, married teenagers—average age of wife, 18.5, and husband, 22 years old—not to have babies. Given that married women accounted for just 6% of the 15-19-year-old female population but accounted for 100% of the drop in teen births, the anti-teen-sex campaigns and contraception programs were vastly more effective with married teens than with their target group, unwed ones. How on earth did they accomplish that?

Meanwhile, these same interest groups largely failed to reduce the birth rate among the unmarried teen women they targeted, which rose 12,000 by number and fell just 17% by rate over a period in which massive campaigns pressured high school girls to “wait until marriage” to have babies. Talk about achieving the opposite! In 1990, nearly one-third of births by teen mothers were within marriage, plunging to just 16% in 2005.

For those who remember the apocalyptic fury against “births by unwed teenage mothers” in the 1990s, along with welfare reform, public crusades, and a worthless new federal agency, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, these results are more than ironic. No wonder all the interest groups ignore their implications.

In fact, the terms “teenage sex,” “teenage pregnancy,” and “teenage mothers” have always been fantasies built arounddeeply sexist misnomers. A large majority of pregnancies and births by teenage females involve not the high school boys the news media blames, but adult men averaging three to four years older—a situation that an enlightened society that holds men (especially adult men) responsible for reproduction would call, “adult impregnation,” not “teen pregnancy.”

Crucial details like reality and the well-being of teens might have once been concerns, back before the 1980s and 1990s. But they are no longer objects of interest among today’s politicized teen-pregnancy industry which, left to right, is far more concerned about winning more funding, grants, favorable publicity, victories over ideological opponents, and eternal self-perpetuation than it is about young people. If interest groups and their “experts” were compelled to tell the truth about what they call “teenage pregnancy,” the whole discussion would change overnight… which is exactly why they don’t.