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Teenage Pregnancies and Sex Education – Professor David Paton on Newsnight

In discussion oProfessor David Patonn Newsnight on Wednesday December 19 Professor David Paton questioned many assumptions underlying current sex education policy with reference to teenage pregnancies. In the short time available it was not possible for him to set out much of the evidence so we reproduce here a presentation he made earlier in the year. (From SPUC)

What is the best way to reduce teenage pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)? What does the evidence reveal?

One approach to address these questions is to compare jurisdictions that differ in their strategies yet are otherwise similar. For example, compared with England, Northern Ireland has restrictive abortion laws, lower provision of family planning services, and a stated goal to decrease the rate of teenage sexual activity. The results? Teenage pregnancy in NI (abortion plus births for U16s) is less than a third of that in England, and STIs for the same age group are also about one third. Diagnoses for gonorrhea, considered the best marker of sexual health, are strikingly lower in NI where there have been 4 diagnoses among U16s in the past 10 years compared with 160-200 each year in England.

In the last decade or so, NI has started to go the way of England, introducing better access to family planning services, sex education, and emergency birth control (EBC, the ‘morning after pill’). But a careful analysis of the data reveals that none of these appears to have had any positive effect at all. Teenage birth rates remain unchanged, and rather than improve, rates of diagnoses of STIs have steadily increased throughout the 2000s. For NI, going the way of England is very unappealing.

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