Study Challenges Abstinence

ByABC News
December 4, 2006, 3:02 PM

Dec.5, 2006— -- Teen pregnancy rates have been dropping in the United States since the early 1990s, because the teens who do have sex are having safer sex, according to a new study.

Improved contraception is more responsible for the drop in teen pregnancies than abstinence, according to a new study published online in the American Journal of Public Health.

"The current emphasis of U.S. domestic and global policies, which stress abstinence-only sex education to the exclusion of accurate information on contraception, is misguided," warns the report.

The study may change the financial future and the direction of teen health programs. Researchers from Columbia University used data from a national study to look at contraceptive use, sexual behaviors, and pregnancy rates of more than 2000 women aged 15-19.

Between 1995 and 2002, overall pregnancy risk dropped 38 percent, as more teens used contraceptives like condoms or birth control pills, and used them correctly. Researchers calculated that 86 percent of the drop in teen pregnancy was due to better contraceptive use. Abstinence from sex was responsible for 14 percent of the decline.

When the researchers looked more closely at the data, they found that in younger teens -- those ages 15-17 years old -- 77 percent of the drop in pregnancy rates was due to improved contraceptive use and 23 percent due to abstinence. Better contraception use was responsible for 100 percent of the pregnancy rate decline among 18-19 year olds, according to the study.

Researchers suggest the data they found have a similar pattern to other developed countries where "increased availability and increased use of modern contraceptives have been primarily responsible for declines in teenage pregnancy rates," wrote study author Dr. John Santelli of the Guttmacher Institute in New York City and his colleagues. Moreover, the authors suggest increases in the use of multiple forms of contraception may "suggest an increased motivation to avoid pregnancy and [sexually transmitted infections]."