The Teen Pregnancy Crisis That Isn’t

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Derek Thompson relays the findings of a new report (pdf) from the Guttmacher Institute showing that teen pregnancy has become much less common over the past 30 years and that abortions among teens are also on the decline:

Even though increasing proportions of women ages 18 and 19 reported having sex, the smallest portion on record are getting pregnant. “Changes in contraceptive use are likely driving this trend,” write authors Kathryn Kost and Stanley Henshaw. Previous studies have found that media awareness of teen moms, like the eponymous MTV show “Teen Moms,” are also responsible for declining pregnancies, although the 30-year trend suggests that there’s something else (presumably sex education and wider use of contraceptives) besides a new MTV show driving the trend.

Katie McDonough thanks birth control and sex ed:

Reproductive rights advocates echoed the sentiment. “The good news is that we know what works to prevent teen pregnancy. Sex education works. Ensuring that teens have access to birth control works,” Leslie Kantor, Planned Parenthood’s vice president of education, said of the report. “When young people have accurate information and resources, they make responsible decisions.” Someone should alert Bill O’Reilly about this news so that maybe he’ll stop obsessing over Beyoncé already.

But Tara Culp-Ressler notes that most adults think teen pregnancy is on the rise:

Perhaps it seems like things are getting worse because there’s always a new trend that inspires moral panic about teens’ risky sexual behavior — like sexting, “raunchy” pop songs, the college “hook up culture,” and TV shows’ supposed “glamorization” of teen pregnancy. Social conservatives also often raise concerns about the fact that Americans are increasingly having sex and children outside of marriage, equating changing family structures with bad choices. And it doesn’t help that the public health campaigns to discourage teen pregnancy often rely on doom-and-gloom messages to shame teens for making terrible decisions that will ruin their lives.

Ultimately, the fact that more teens are successfully using birth control doesn’t fit into our larger societal narrative that kids are always irresponsible. Americans tend to be reluctant to trust teenagers to manage their own sexual health, and often treat sex as something that’s totally outside kids’ realm of understanding.