Thursday, October 8, 2009

Do Faith Communities Somehow Breed Teen Pregnancy?

Part of promoting life is to lead people to a lifestyle of healthy relationships. Having said that, there has been some talk about a new study that was posted in Christianity Today and elsewhere suggesting a correlation between teen pregnancy and conservative religious beliefs. This study states:

“With data aggregated at the state level, conservative religious beliefs strongly predict U.S. teen birth rates, in a relationship that does not appear to be the result of confounding by income or abortion rates. One possible explanation for this relationship is that teens in more religious communities may be less likely to use contraception.” Read the full study published in the journal, Reproductive Health.

Here are a couple of the ultimate questions that this study raises:
  1. Is a good approach to prevention of unplanned pregnancy the teaching of condom use?

  2. Is Abstinence Education a failed approach just because many who teach abstinence education are from faith-based organizations?
In response to question number one…Are condoms the healthiest choice for our teens? No. They’re not 100 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, but even if they were, the question remains whether their distribution is an approach that truly protects the future of our teens. Working more pro-actively than re-actively with our youth will produce more long-lasting and protective measures than simple condom usage programs could dream of.

In response to question number two… First of all, this study appears to be an attack on the Christian faith, which, in contrast to the assumptions made in the study, empowers individuals to live healthy, whole lives when sex is enjoyed within the context of marriage. While some abstinence educators in schools come from this faith perspective, their programs are based on the most protective and effective public health measures for young people, not religious viewpoints.

Secondly, it is easy to see where confusion may enter in when there is not enough information given on what abstinence education really is. The article in mention refers to abstinence education as “abstinence only” which implies that abstinence education is a “just say no” program. Most abstinence educators would not think to refer to their curriculum as “abstinence only”. This statement could not be farther from the true description of abstinence education. Abstinence educators pride themselves in the variety of subjects that they cover. Some of the main topics of abstinence education include:

  • Healthy Relationships
  • Avoiding compromising situations [to include: drugs/alcohol, being alone with significant other etc.]
  • Settings Goals and protecting your future
  • Maturity
  • Refusal Skills
  • STD/STI Education and Statistics
  • Condom Statistics
  • Intimacy
  • Love vs. Infatuation
  • Steps to Sexual Progression
  • Starting Over
These are just a few of the many subjects that abstinence education covers for our youth. The point is that abstinence education is instrumental in helping our teens make an informed decision.

And how do teens respond to such a message? Abstinence educators describe countless young people that have come up to them after presentations and say, “Why has nobody else told us this before?” or “It is so nice to know I am not the only one that is not doing it… I thought everyone else was.” Our youth are more intelligent than many are willing to give them credit. They have intellectual choices to make… not instinctual.

[For more information on the effectiveness of abstinence education in our nation, read the latest information from the Institute for Research and Evaluation.]

Pregnancy centers have a unique opportunity to get involved pro-actively with the teens in their communities to teach ways to avoid compromising situations that lead to sex. As we purpose to inspire life, let’s remember to teach our teens to make healthy lifestyle choices in every area of life!

Toneia Mayes is a Care Net Regional Consultant and a consultant for Community Based Abstinence Education grants. She can be reached at