It's Time to Revise Way U.S. Teaches Sex Education

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), February 25, 2002 | Go to article overview
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It's Time to Revise Way U.S. Teaches Sex Education


Byline: BEN DAKE, GREG FLINT and MARY GOSSART For The Register-Guard

CHRIS STOLLAR and Genevieve LaBahn performed a valuable service in the 20Below feature, "Sex and Morals: Should schools adopt the European model of sex education?" (Register-Guard, Feb. 11). It's high time we take a serious look at doing things differently, given that the United States has among the highest rates of unintended pregnancy, birth and abortion in the developed world for young women ages 15 to 19.

To offer more clarity, we want to correct some statements that were inaccurate and highlight points of the European experience that were not explored.

Comparisons between the U.S. and western Europe paint a damning picture of what is happening to young women in this country. Uncomfortable with this, some feel compelled to challenge the validity of the data. Using a Focus on the Family report, Stollar dismissed figures that convincingly show teen pregnancy rates in The Netherlands are much lower than those in the U.S.

The data for The Netherlands, he argued, are calculated for "...all females under age 20 - including ages 1-14...," and consequently the Dutch rate is artificially lowered. This is not true. The Dutch statistics refer to pregnancies occurring to all teens under the age of 20, with the operative word being "teens." Statistical adjustments through scientifically sound methods provide a level age base for comparison.

The data proving that teen pregnancy, birth and abortion rates are dramatically higher in the U.S. may be painful for us to hear - nevertheless, they are accurate. Denying them can only block us from facing reality and taking the opportunity to work collaboratively in support of our young people's health.

Each year, Advocates for Youth and the University of North Carolina co-sponsor a study tour to Germany, France and the Netherlands to explore programs and policies that have resulted in such positive sexual health outcomes in these countries. Advocates for Youth - which is not an affiliate of Planned Parenthood, as Stollar suggested - is a Washington, D.C.,-based organization dedicated to creating a climate that supports young people in making informed, responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health.

Since 1998, more than 140 educators, health care professionals, religious leaders, policy makers and young people have participated in the study tours.

What they have discovered is not just a European "model" for other countries to clone and implement.

The European approach does not focus solely on sex education, nor is it only about promoting condoms. Myriad factors influence the differences in teen sexual health throughout these other nations: affordable family planning services; sustained, realistic media campaigns; public health strategies grounded in pragmatism and research; and sexuality information characterized by open, honest dialogue - within families, schools and places of worship.

Philosophically, many European countries accept that adolescents, especially older ones, may choose to have a sexual relationship.

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