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Wall Street Journal on Teen Pregnancy

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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July 25, 2006

Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal ran a piece called Winning the Battle On Teen Pregnancy. The article compares two adjacent counties in South Carolina (Allendale and Bamberg) that have similar demographics — more than 1/4 of families live below the poverty line, half of families only have one parent living at home, and both populations are over 60 percent African-American — but differ in their rates of teen pregnancy. Bamberg has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in SC, while Allendale has one of the state’s highest, and the rate at which teen pregnancy in Bamberg has fallen has been faster than that of most of the US.The article points out that Bamberg, unlike Allendale, has a long-running and intensive program to prevent teen pregnancy. The program, started in 1982, provides students beginning in the third grade, with 36 sex ed classes a year, twice-monthly one-on-one counseling sessions for Medicaid-eligible students, and access to free condoms at local town hangouts. The goal of Bamberg’s program has been to “flood the community with information, creating an environment that would encourage teens to say ‘no’ to sex but also instruct them on how to avoid pregnancy if they decided to say ‘yes’.”The program in Bamberg also is unique in that pregnancy-prevention efforts are not solely focused on girls as they are in many abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Rather, boys attend weekly discussions on sex, dating, and domestic violence and overnight gatherings called “Mantalk” where an array of men talk about making the right decisions.One of the article’s subjects, Brandon Jamison, notes that the intensive sex education and messages on preventing pregnancy and STDs has created an environment where teens are comfortable discussing sex and contraception — topics that most teens find awkward.It should be noted that Bamberg’s approach is markedly different from that of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs that focus solely on staying chaste until marriage and provide teens with little information about contraceptives.Statistics show us that focusing on teens remaining abstinent until marriage is unrealistic (the average age for first intercourse for men and women in the US is 17.7 and 17.4 respectively, while the average age for first marriage is 27.1 for men and 25.3 for women). Yet Bamberg County seems to have hit on the right mixture of promoting both abstinence and safe sex. As the article ends, Brandon Jamison brings a couple condoms to his high school prom, noting, “I don’t plan to have sex, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.”