What Do We Value?

By Liz Thorne

I have always worked in a job dedicated to service to others that is mission-driven. Here at Cairn Guidance, our mission is to create places of health and well-being where all youth are healthy, connected, educated and reaching their full potential. I’m willing to bet most people would agree this is a shared value. But how we get there is where we see so much divergence.

The recent decision by the Administration to cut $213 million dollars in programs and research to prevent teen pregnancy is a recent example of a policy that is not based in evidence or reason, and moves in the opposite direction of what we know works in preventing teen pregnancies. Here’s what we know.

Most young people will have sex before they are married. Regardless of whether you talk about it or not, young people will have sex before they graduate high school. Nearly half (41%) of high schoolers in the US have had sex.[1]

The teen pregnancy rate has been dropping for years. While rates of sexual activity have been stable, the teen birth rate has dropped precipitously for years. So what has changed? Studies point to increased use of contraception, including more effective methods like long acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs).[2] The American Academy of Pediatrics put out a policy statement in 2014 recommending LARCs as the first line contraceptive choice for youth who choose not to be abstinent. Another policy support- the Affordable Care Act required that insurance companies cover contraceptives like LARCs to make them more accessible and lessen the burden on publicly funded family planning programs.

Learning to navigate relationships, intimacy and romance is part of growing into an adult. Being in a healthy relationship takes skills and skills take practice. Plus, too many young people find themselves in unhealthy relationships that can derail their potential. Many of the programs funded through the Office of Adolescent Health focused on helping young people identify healthy relationships, including consent and how to make healthy choices aligned with their values.  Quality comprehensive sexuality education covers healthy relationships (including consent and how to get help if you are in an unhealthy relationship); abstinence as a healthy choice for our young people, contraception and building skills (like communication and negotiation). However, many young people in schools across our country do not have access to comprehensive sexuality education.

We have too far to go to head in the opposite direction. Even as teen pregnancy rates declined for all populations, there are still differences based on race and class that must be addressed. At least 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted while in college. Young people must have access to information, health services, and opportunities to develop skills to keep themselves safe, healthy and able to learn.

[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 2015.

[2] Lindberg L, Santelli J, Desai S. Understanding the decline in adolescent fertility in the United States 2007-2012. Journal of Adolescent Health http://www.jahonline.org/article/S1054-139X(16)30172-0/pdf