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Dr. Kathrin Stanger-Hall, University of Georgia – Abstinence-Only Sex Education

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Kathrin Stanger-Hall of the University of Georgia reveals the connection between abstinence-only sex education and teen pregnancy rates.

Kathrin Stanger-Hall is an associate professor of biology at the University of Georgia where her research is focused on promoting active learning and critical thinking in science education. She also oversees a research lab investigating the evolution of light signals in fireflies and lightning bugs.  She holds a Ph.D. from Eberhardt Karls Universitat Tubingen.

About Dr. Stanger-Hall

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Dr. Kathrin Stanger-Hall – Abstinence-Only Sex Education

Many teenagers dream about the future including how many children they want - and when.. But no matter what the number - it will require some thoughtful planning to make this happen, and to make it happen at the right time. Unfortunately, American teenagers are much less likely to succeed in realizing their dreams than teenagers in other developed countries, because they are much more likely to get pregnant as teens. In fact, the United States ranks first among developed nations in teenage pregnancy rates. 

Our research shows that this may be related to the US education system, specifically the degree to which abstinence-only sex education is emphasized in public schools.   Advocates assume that abstinence-only sex education leads to abstinence behavior and therefore reduces teenage pregnancy rates. In an analysis of all US states, we found the opposite: states like New Mexico and Mississippi that stress abstinence-only education in their state laws and policies tend to have the highest teen pregnancy rates, while states like New York and California who prescribe comprehensive sex education, tend to have lower teen pregnancy rates. This result holds up after accounting statistically for several other factors that vary among states, and which might influence teenage pregnancy rates, including socioeconomic status, education attainment and ethnic make-up.

Our work clearly shows that across the United States abstinence-only education does not reduce teenage pregnancy rates. In addition, without comprehensive sex education, teens will lack the knowledge to make informed reproductive decisions as adults. For example the CDC reports that in the United States almost half of all pregnancies were unintended in 2006.

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