Poverty, Rape, Adult/teen Sex: Why 'Pregnancy Prevention' Programs Don't Work

By Males, Mike | Phi Delta Kappan, January 1994 | Go to article overview

Poverty, Rape, Adult/teen Sex: Why 'Pregnancy Prevention' Programs Don't Work


Males, Mike, Phi Delta Kappan


Mr. Males responds with new data to support his central point - that teenage and adult sexual behaviors are so intertwined at both the personal and the societal levels that there is, in reality, no distinct "teenage pregnancy" phenomenon amenable to school intervention.

Stephen Caldas presents a cogent argument for expanding school programs of sexual and contraceptive education in order to prevent what we call "teenage" pregnancy. Unfortunately, he does not address the points in my Match 1993 article regarding the monumental difficulties confronting the school-based measures he advocates.(1)

We begin with a fundamental disagreement: Caldas assumes that modern "teenage" sex and pregnancy are deviant behaviors that schools can isolate and address separately from socially acceptable "adult" sex and pregnancy. But the point of my previous article was that teenage and adult sexual behaviors are so inter-mixed at both the personal and the societal levels that there is, in reality, no distinct teenage phenomenon amenable to school intervention. I now offer an update of crucial, rarely mentioned facts in support of my argument:

1. The large majority of all "teenage" pregnancies are caused by adults. A 1990 tabulation of 60,000 births among both married and unmarried teenage mothers in California (85% of all teen births in the state that year - the most comprehensive sample yet assembled) details the overwhelming adult role in "teen" pregnancy.(2)

* Men older than high school age account for 77% of all births among girls of high school age (ages 16-18) and for 5 1 % of births among girls of junior high school age (15 and younger).

* Men over age 25 father twice as many "teenage" births as do boys under age 18.

* Men over age 20 father five times more births among junior high school age girls than do junior high school age boys and 2.5 times more births among senior high school age girls than do senior high school age boys.

* Junior high school age boys account for just 7% of the births among junior high school age girls. Senior high school age boys father only 24% of births among all school-age girls.

* Additionally, adult women over age 20 account for 14% of the births fathered by school-age boys.

A less complete national tabulation of 309,819 "teen" births reported in the most recent Vital Statistics of the United States (1988) confirms the pattern found in California: only 89,509 births (29%) involved two teenage partners; 220,310 (71%) involved a teenage partner and an adult partner over age 20.3

California figures show that the age gap between male and female partners is much larger than is generally assumed. Indeed, the younger the mother, the greater the age gap. When the mother is 12 years old or younger, the father averages 22 years of age; for mothers of junior high age, fathers average nearly five years older; for mothers of high school age, fathers average nearly four years older. These adult/youth sex patterns have profound implications for the spread of sexually transmitted disease (STD) and AIDS as well. STD and AIDS rates are 2.5 times higher among females under age 20 than can be predicted from rates among males under age 20 - a "surplus" pointing strongly to transmission from older men.(4)

By denying the definitive reality of adult/teen sex, school prevention programs, in effect, assign girls as young as junior high school age the responsibility of preventing pregnancies typically involving much older adult partners. Such an approach is fraught with troubling real-life implications, both practical and philosophical, which are exacerbated by the special problems of girls who are at risk of becoming pregnant.

2. A large majority of all pregnant teenagers have histories of rape, sexual abuse, and physical abuse. A 1985 Los Angeles Times survey showed that 27% of all women and 16% of all men were sexually abused as children - nearly all by adults and half by "someone in authority. …

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