The U.S. has an astonishingly high rate of teen pregnancy for an industrialized country--seven times that of the Netherlands. To most public-health experts, this means that there is an urgent need for better sex education and easier access to contraceptives. But many conservatives--and the Bush Administration--oppose such efforts, charging that they encourage promiscuity and undermine "family values." As a result, programs to offer condoms in schools have been controversial and often blocked.
Now comes an exhaustive analysis that firmly "refutes the myth that giving teenagers contraceptives makes them promiscuous," says Johns Hopkins University pediatrician Janet B. Hardy, co-author of the study. Entitled Adolescent Pregnancy in an Urban Environment, the book examines 20 years of pregnancy-prevention efforts. One of the most successful programs, it reports, was a three-year demonstration project involving 2,000 junior and senior high school students in Baltimore. Pregnancy rates dropped dramatically among the teenagers in the program. At the same time, the average age at which they first had sex rose by nearly a year compared with similar teens. "Without a doubt, providing both information and contraception helps adolescents act more responsibly," concludes Hardy.