Other than those motivated by politics, it is difficult to believe anyone is still on the fence about whether sex education and condom availability make a powerful difference in...

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Other than those motivated by politics, it is difficult to believe anyone is still on the fence about whether sex education and condom availability make a powerful difference in the lives of teens.

Yet, debate continues over whether public policy and resources ought to remain on teaching sexuality — including how to prevent disease and unwanted pregnancies — or shift further toward abstinence-only efforts.
So it’s worth highlighting yet another study that shows sex education works. A new national survey finds younger teens are abstaining from sex more often and when they do have sex, are using condoms and other contraception.

The study, done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics, complements other federal studies that report a decade-long decline in teen pregnancies.

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And now this latest survey tells us why. Just under half of all teens reported in the CDC survey that they’ve had sex. Those who have are being smarter about it, with 83 percent of girls and 91 percent of boys using contraception. This is a marked improvement from a decade ago, when only 71 percent of teens engaging in sex also used contraception.

Policymakers aren’t likely to stop clashing over sex education versus abstinence. But this latest study offers a dose of reality. Most young people are abstaining from sex. A significant minority have had sex and are entitled to information that will help them stay safe and healthy.

Teen health centers and classes on human sexuality are the best sources for this information. Classrooms and hallways may be hormonal melting pots, as many parents fear, but they are also places where many teens feel more comfortable seeking out advice on sex.

One prevention tool that receives little attention is providing young people with something to do besides have sex.

Research suggests that teens involved in sports or who are successful at school are less likely to engage in premature sex or to get pregnant. The same goes for children who have positive, close connections with their parents.

Despite a culture that sells sex to even the youngest of consumers, tremendous inroads are being made in protecting teens from unwanted pregnancies and diseases. There should be little argument over what works: comprehensive sex education in schools and a complement of after-school programs in communities, particularly low-income ones.