Do Europeans Point Way to Reducing Teen Pregnancy?

By Wetzstein, Cheryl | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), February 3, 1999 | Go to article overview

Do Europeans Point Way to Reducing Teen Pregnancy?


Wetzstein, Cheryl, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


As Americans dither on the kind of pregnancy-prevention messages they want to send to teens, Europeans are in their second decade of saying young people should have "safe sex or no sex."

Some U.S. reproductive health experts think the European model deserves a chance here.

France, Germany and the Netherlands all enjoy lower rates of teen births, abortions and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) than American teens. Also, European teens typically start sexual activity later than American teens and have fewer sexual partners, says a report by Advocates for Youth (AFY).

However, a quick review of U.S. media and health care policies shows that a European-style safe-sex message would hit numerous barriers here.

A recent forum hosted by AFY, a reproductive health advocacy group, showed numerous European "safe sex" campaigns, several of which started in the 1980s.

One TV ad showed a beautiful woman tossing a handsome man out of her bed when he refused to use a condom. Another showed a couple breaking off an embrace long enough to pull a classy-looking condom out of a pocket.

Other commercials had such messages as, "I'll take something off if you put something on," "Your condom or mine?" or "Talk about contraception while your pants are still on."

These messages, given throughout European schools and society with government and public support, create national expectations that if teens decide to become sexually active, they will protect themselves from unwanted pregnancy and disease. In Europe, needing an abortion is shameful because it's not deciding to have sex responsibly, experts told the AFY forum.

In America, however, there are "contradictory" and "confused" norms and policies about teen sexuality, AFY President James Wagoner said in the group's report, "European Approaches to Adolescent Sexual Behavior and Responsibility."

The U.S. entertainment industry often encourages sex, while a new federal policy says that teens should abstain from sex until marriage, said Mr. Wagoner. Meanwhile, 70 percent of U.S. 18-year-olds have had sexual intercourse, he said.

"We cannot afford to ignore the needs of sexually active youth," Mr. Wagoner said. "Could the `silver bullet' solution for the United States be mass-media campaigns like those in Europe that boast a single, consistent message - `safe sex or no sex'?" he asked.

Focus on the Family, a traditional values group, has three words for this suggestion: non, nein and neen.

The European model has led to "skyrocketing" rates of out-of-wedlock births and cohabitation because it "removes all links between sexual behavior and the institution of marriage," Focus on the Family said in a statement on the AFY report.

Safe-sex messages have already been tried and failed in this country, the group said. The trend toward sexual abstinence until marriage is working, so "why would we want to replace an approach that is working with one that will take us in the wrong direction?" it asked.

These policy arguments are far from over. However, a quick look at one successful European campaign - the Netherlands' "Double Dutch" - shows that it would not replicate easily in this country.

The "Double Dutch" campaign urges girls to take oral contraceptives and boys to use condoms. …

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Do Europeans Point Way to Reducing Teen Pregnancy?
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