The rates of teenage pregnancies and abortions have dropped significantly in recent years, according to a Pew report that shows the birthrate among young women aged 15 to 19 has plunged to less than half of what it was in 2008 — from 41.5 births per 1,000 women to 18 births per 1,000. Abortion rates have similarly declined.

Pew researchers, as well as CDC reports, say the decline is largely due to the fact that American teens are having less sex, and that when they do have sex they are more likely to use contraception.

That’s good news for the health of both young men and women. 

So if abstinence seems to be working, why is teen actor Joshua Rush joining a youth movement to protest abstinence-only sex education?

One concern, says Rush, is that some abstinence-only programs stigmatize sexually active young people  — especially young women. There are some programs that have likened them to a wad of used gum in an effort to get young men to think twice about having sex with them.

The other problem, Rush says, is that sex education that focuses entirely on abstinence often provides young people with no other information, or sometimes incorrect information, in an effort to discourage all sexual activity. Some school abstinence-only programs inflate condom failure rates, for example, to discourage their use, while other programs overstate the prevalence and effects of sexually transmitted diseases.

Rush, the 17-year-old star of the Disney series "Andi Mack," is now the voice of the Universal Kids series "Where’s Waldo?". As he transitions from child star to adult actor, Rush, who recently came out as bisexual, says he feels more responsible to speak out on issues of concern to his fans.

There are vocal people on both sides of this issue, of course. Proponents of abstinence-only sexual education argue that the programs teach more than pregnancy prevention — they also build self-control and self-respect in young people. They also point to the declining rate of sexual activity among teenagers as a positive outcome of pro-abstinence policies. Since 1980, Congress has spent $2.2 billion on abstinence-only programs. Twenty-six states require abstinence be a factor in public sex education, though in most cases it is promoted alongside information on contraceptives and sexual orientation. 

In the meantime, another group has recently emerged that feels abstinence is the right choice for them, though for an entirely different reason. At a recent rally in the shadow of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., some of the young people in the crowd identified themselves as asexual — a sexual orientation in which a person feels little or no sexual attraction — which has recently gained increased awareness.

Published on Nov 26, 2019