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Letters to the Editor

The reality behind ‘teen pregnancy’

Mike Males May 15th, 2013

That even today, “teen pregnancy” continues to be misrepresented as just the result of teenage ignorance and carelessness (Life, Rachel Curtis, “Sensible sex ed,” April 24, Oklahoma Gazette) is more proof of the need to abandon this sexist misnomer. The large majority of male partners are adult men.

In the case of the middle-schoolers the article discusses, fathers in births to girls age 15 and younger are far more likely to be over age 21 than under age 16. Several studies have found girls who had sex at 15 or younger were very likely to have been raped, usually by a substantially older man, and that school-age mothers are much more likely to be poor and to have been sexually victimized in childhood.

Of course, those are good reasons to support factual sex education so that young people can have access to information and resources to protect themselves.

But depicting sex ed as the key strategy to prevent “teen pregnancy” obscures far more important factors we should be paying more attention to: adult sexual behaviors, domestic violence against children and youth, poverty rates and access to higher education.

The best long-term economic studies show that for poorer populations, having babies at younger ages makes economic sense (parents are freed to work by their early 30s, when earning potential is highest) and maximizes the use of extended families to raise children.

Two counties have strikingly low rates of births by teens and young adults of every race: Cleveland and Payne. Take a moment to ponder what feature of those two counties might explain that fact.

Over the last 20 years, pregnancy, birth and marriage rates among younger women have plummeted to record lows. These trends correspond to rapid increases in enrollments of young women, particularly minorities, in colleges, universities and vocational schools, despite relentless efforts to make higher education as costly as possible.

Endlessly debating sex-vs.-abstinence programs, blaming popular culture and depicting teenagers as stupid may satisfy many adult interests, but it’s time to move on to tougher realities. Abolishing the deceptive term “teen pregnancy” would be a good start.

—Mike Males, Oklahoma City

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