The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) this month reported the teenage birth rate declined 8 percent in the United States from 2007 to 2009, reaching a historic low at 39 births per 1,000 in teens between the ages of 15 and 19.
Nevada’s rate: 90 births per 1,000 in teens between ages 15 and 19.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and www.guttmacher.org, Nevada has the second highest teen birth rate in the nation. Only New Mexico is higher, with a rate of 93 births per 1,000 teens.
Planned Parenthood of Northern Nevada spokesperson Alison Gaulden blames lack of sex education in the state for the high pregnancy rates. She said it is the responsibility of parents and schools to properly educate children about sex, protecting themselves from sexually transmitted diseases, preventing pregnancy and what constitutes a healthy relationship.
“Teen pregnancy affects the state budget bottom line, school district graduation rates, the county budget,” Gaulden said. “And in 50 percent of teen pregnancies, there has been abuse in that child’s life, whether at home or in their relationships.”
With the help of District 24 Assemblyman David Bobzien, Planned Parenthood is hoping to provide young Nevadans with the tools they need to avoid becoming teen parents and to make informed decisions about their lives.
Bobzien submitted Bill Draft Request (BDR) 143 in June 2010. The legislation would create statewide comprehensive sexuality and teen dating violence prevention curricula. The request is scheduled to be heard in committee March 13 or 14, Gaulden said.
“In Washoe County, we have a pretty good school sex ed program,” Gaulden said, but parents have to sign paperwork to “opt in” to have their child participate.
“Right now the standard is for parents to opt in,” she said. “We want that to be adjusted to an opt out system.”
Gaulden said she believes more students would benefit from a sexual education program if it were the statewide standard to participate.
“The parents just trust the schools to take care of sex ed,” Gaulden said, perhaps not realizing they have to sign their child up for the course, if a course is even offered.
In Washoe County, at least, most students do participate in a sexual education program. According to Katherine Loudon, WCSD counseling coordinator, parents have the option to give permission for their child to participate in the program beginning in fourth grade.
“We have over 98 percent participation,” Loudon said.
Loudon said WCSD teaches the benefits of abstinence, but also gives students the information they need to keep themselves healthy if they do choose to become sexually active.
“Sex ed is a program about science and health,” Loudon said.
Another factor in teen pregnancy, Gaulden said, is parents don’t talk to their children enough about sex.
“They think they are talking to their kids about sex,” she said, but studies show most parents are not getting the right messages across.
A study published in TIME Magazine in 2009 revealed that out of 141 families, more than half of the parents fell short when it came to breaching the subject of sex with their children. The study was organized by the University of California Los Angeles/Rand Center for Adolescent Health Promotion and overseen by Schuster.
“By the end of the study, more than half of the parents reported that they had not discussed 14 of the 24 sex-related topics by the time their adolescents had begun genital touching or oral sex with partners,” TIME reported. “Forty-two percent of girls reported that they had not discussed the effectiveness of birth control and 40 percent admitted they had not talked with their parents about how to refuse sex before engaging in genital touching.
“Nearly 70 percent of boys said they had not discussed how to use a condom or other birth control methods with their parents before having intercourse. Yet only half of the boys’ parents, by contrast, said they had not discussed condom use or birth control with their sons.”
Studies have shown that the more information a child is given about sex, the more likely they are to delay becoming sexually active, Gaulden said.
Talking to your child about sex can be awkward for both parties, Gaulden said. Knowing what age to begin the discussions and how to start the dialogue also can be difficult.
“I don’t think parents have enough information about when to talk to kids about sex,” Gaulden said, but the education needs to begin at an early age. “Seven percent of 10- to 12-year-olds are sexually active in Washoe County.”
Not only are 7 percent of Washoe County’s children between ages 10 and 12 sexually active, she said, girls are engaging in oral sex at a very young age.
“One in four girls in Washoe County has an STD,” Gaulden said. “One in two has an STD by the age of 25.”
Planned Parenthood’s website, www.plannedparenthood.org, contains information for parents about how to talk to their children about sex. Click on “Info for Parents” on the right side of the page.
Reno’s college population is swarming with STDs, Gaulden said, which could be due, in part, to the lack of a statewide standard sex ed program. According to a study done by the American College Health Association in 2006, UNR has twice as many students with an STD than the national average.
“UNR college students have twice the STD rate of students on other college campuses,” Gaulden said, adding that students know about condoms, but simply aren’t using them.
So for Nevada students, the lack of sex education begins early and continues into adulthood. Gaulden said although Washoe County students are benefitting from a sex ed program, many Nevada students are not.
“At one of the rural schools, and I can’t remember which one, the sex ed consists of the students talking to the school nurse for an hour,” Gaulden said.
Clark and Lyon counties accepted federal funding for abstinence-only education, she said, which teaches students the benefits of remaining virgins until marriage. Gaulden said students in Lyon County said they wanted sexual education.
“It got so bad the students came forward and said, ‘We are getting pregnant. We want more education,’ ” she said.
A recent Facebook post of a photo of a pregnant mannequin in a Forever 21 retail outlet could be an indication of a problem, Gaulden said. Beneath the picture was a caption which read, “Forever 21 has maternity wear. ‘Cause teen pregnancy is the new black ...”
“It’s really telling when a retail business sees a trend such as this,” Gaulden said.
The woman who posted the picture is in her 20s, married and just gave birth to her first child. She said: “Babies are not cute accessories, they are cute money pits. I pretty much know that my tax dollars are gonna pay for anyone who shops in this section ...”
Teen births impact the local economy to the tune of $67 million per year, Gaulden said, and that number is based on 2004 data. Gaulden said she assumes that number has risen over the past seven years.
“There’s a cost to teen pregnancy,” Gaulden said, that affects everyone. “Those teens often end in poverty, don’t finish their education and their children end up having health issues.”
Teen mothers often give birth to low-weight babies, resulting in health problems, and uneducated mothers tend to raise uneducated children, she said.
“Then the children end up as criminals,” Gaulden said. “It’s a cycle of poverty that creates a drain on society.”
While teen pregnancy could be costing taxpayers money, Loudon said she fears the state does not have enough funding to support sex education programs for all school districts.
“The biggest problem with the bill is it would be an unfunded mandate,” Loudon said. “We even fear the funding we have in Washoe County could be cut.”
Anyone interested in learning how to lobby can attend training sessions in Carson City in March, Gaulden said. For more information, visit www.nevadawomenslobby.org.