A new report conducted by Population Action International (PAI) found that young people in the US are in need of more reproductive health services and information. The report, “In This Generation: Sexual and Reproductive Health Policies for a Youthful World,” focused on seven countries, the US, Iran, the Netherlands, Mexico, India, Ghana, and Mali, and found that only one, the Netherlands, adequately met the reproductive health needs of those under 25. “Meeting the reproductive health needs of young people means ensuring they have accurate information Ð and someone to talk to Ð about sexuality, family planning, childbearing and disease; it means ensuring their access to the means to prevent disease and unintended pregnancy,” says Amy Coen, PAI President. The Netherlands has massive public education campaigns directed at reproductive health issues and encouraging safer sex.
Young adults in the US, consequently, fare far worse than their counterparts in the Netherlands. According to James Wagoner, President of Advocates for Youth, the U.S. teen birth rate is 11 times higher than that in the Netherlands, the teen gonorrhea rate is 74 times higher, and HIV prevalence is 3 times as high. The findings indicate that in the US, “It’s time to stop looking at reproductive health as a sex issue and start looking at it as a health issue,” says PAI Senior Researcher Margaret E. Greene, PhD. “Concepts of morality and tradition and the taboos associated with sexuality prevent the kind of healthy exchange of information and open communication that young people desperately need to educate themselves.”
The results of the study also suggest that abstinence-only sex education may not be the most effective means of protecting the health of teens and young adults. According to Coen, “There is a misconception that sexual and reproductive health education will encourage sexual behavior and lead to higher rates of abortion, unintended pregnancy and STIs (sexually transmitted infections) among youth. The Dutch experience proves that talking openly about sexuality and making services available to young people does just the opposite: it benefits their reproductive health.” A US House Committee, however, voted last week to renew $50 million in funding for abstinence-only sex education over the next 5 years.