In a July 2005 update of its statement on preventing unintended pregnancies among teens, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strengthens its call for comprehensive sex education. While the AAP’s previous (1998) policy stated that ''abstinence counseling is an important role for all pediatricians,'' the new policy recommends that doctors encourage adolescents to postpone sexual activity and help ensure that all teens--not just those who are sexually active--have access to birth control, including emergency contraception.
In addition to the AAP, the American Medical Association, American Nurses Association, American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Psychological Association, American Public Health Association, National Institutes of Health and Institute of Medicine all support comprehensive sex education. Despite the growing government focus on and funding for abstinence-only education programs in recent years, and attempts to promote abstinence as the only way to prevent teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), the available evidence clearly shows that a comprehensive approach to sex education, including information about both abstinence and contraception, can be effective at reducing unwanted pregnancy and unprotected sex, without encouraging teens to engage in sexual activity. Rather than providing information on how contraceptives can be used effectively, many abstinence-only programs emphasize the failure rates of contraceptives--if they mention birth control methods at all.
Although the teen pregnancy rate has dropped over the last decade, nearly 850,000 U.S. teens still become pregnant each year, and the vast majority of these pregnancies are unintended. Moreover, U.S. teen pregnancy rates continue to be significantly higher than those in comparable industrialized countries. Pediatricians and other health professionals have an obligation to provide their teenage clients with the most effective and accurate information and services possible.
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