In my first blog posting, I tackled the subject of the lack of comprehensive sexuality education in Canadian schools; last week a newspaper article in Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper looked at teen pregnancy and abortion. The article entitled "Teen pregnancies drop to a new low, abortions continue decline" was written by public health reporter André Picard and details how "the teenage pregnancy rate has hit an all-time low and that abortion has also fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade" by examining a new study on the subjects released by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada. The article also confirms what I wrote in my first blog, that teens lack the essential comprehensive sexuality education that they need. By studying the increase in Sexually Transmitted Infections we see that youth are no better informed then they were in the past, and in fact are taking more risks with their long-term sexual health than ever before.
In the article Picard interviews Linda Capperauld, the Executive Director of the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, who states that the decline in pregnancy and abortions in teen girls is directly linked to the increased use of oral contraceptives or "the pill" but not an increase in the use of condoms. This is true, and the reason for the increase is not necessarily that girls are being given the information that they need in order to make an informed choice, but rather they are learning from popular culture that if you want to have "safe" sex, you get on the pill. However the lack of education means that youth are not being informed that you can contract many different and potentially life-threatening diseases from "safe" sex where no condom is used. This is especially dangerous for adolescent men who are under the false impression that if their sexual partners are on the pill or of the same sex, they have nothing to worry about.
The article goes on to say that adolescent girls in rural parts of Canada (which is most of the country) and aboriginal girls both tend to have higher rates of pregnancy and abortion than their counterparts in larger urban centres. Again as Ms. Capperauld notes, this is not surprising given the lack of comprehensive services that youth can access in those areas. In my Accessing Choice blog I spoke with research Jessica Shaw from Canadians for Choice about the lack of accessible abortion services. Young women all over the country are having trouble finding the services they need, but the problem is even more acute for rural women. The creation of unbiased, youth friendly services is needed if governments will not address the need for sexuality education in school.
So what has this new study shown us? Well it confirms what those of us working with youth and sexuality have been talking about for a long time, that simply supplying contraceptives to women of all ages will decrease pregnancy and the need for abortion services, but it will not address the real need for youth (and adults) to be informed about a major component of their health. A resurgence of STI's will occur unless proper measures are taken to educate youth about the risks of unprotected sex.