So many Florida girls are getting pregnant, the state ranks sixth in the nation for teen pregnancy.
That might not be the case, says an expert in field, if more young people were taught about contraception.
"While the adults are arguing about abstinence, our teenagers are getting pregnant," says Dr. Carol Cassell, an author, researcher and social scientist who will be in the Tampa Bay area next week to speak at fundraisers for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida.
From 1996 to 2004, Cassell ran the teen pregnancy research program at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. She then went to the University of New Mexico to run the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a three-year, CDC-funded study of junior and senior high school students. She now is writing a book, Beyond Knocked Up: The Personal Dilemmas and the Price We All Pay for Unplanned and Unwanted Pregnancies.
In her work, Cassell draws on her 30 years of researching, writing and speaking on the topic — and her own experience as the mother of six children.
"I know kids, I've researched their behavior for years," she says. "If we don't teach about contraception, we have unintended pregnancy."
I recently spoke by phone with Cassell from her home in Taos, N.M.
Your thoughts on Florida's teen pregnancy ranking?
This is not a game you want to "win''; it's not good to be in the top 10. It's not a good idea for kids to become parents. We need to teach what they teach in Europe: safe sex or no sex. The expectation is that when they do become sexually active, they will use contraception. We have to stop insisting on abstinence until marriage.
What do we need to know to work toward a solution?
First of all, teens don't have sex to have babies. Almost all of teen pregnancy, 80 percent of it, is unwanted and unplanned. We have to deliver comprehensive sex education in a new and better way that connects with young men and young women. We need to get across to them that unwanted pregnancy leads to difficulty in life. Just telling them that they should wait to have sex until they are married doesn't equip them for real life. It's better to talk to them about decisions and emotions and consequences. It's more realistic.
What about the vows to remain virgins until marriage that some teens take. Are those effective?
Research shows almost all of these girls have sex before marriage. And they don't use protection because they've taken a vow and using protection means you're making a decision to have sex and that breaks your vow. So these girls close their eyes and hope for the best. That's the most startling finding in the abstinence research.
What's your biggest worry about teen pregnancy?
Here are numbers from a federal study, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unintended Pregnancy: Almost a million children are reported abused or neglected in the United States. Half end up in foster care; 40,000 are infants. About 80 percent of those cases of abuse and neglect are due to teen pregnancy. Of the young boys incarcerated in this country, 70 percent are from a single mother who was pregnant as a teen. It's a serious health concern. It's serious for everybody.
What's the bottom line?
I want us to think about where we are putting our energy and our resources. We don't show condoms on TV, but we show an awful lot of Viagra.
Irene Maher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3416.