FIRST-PERSON: 'Safe sex' is a myth, & CDC stats prove it
ALEXANDRIA, La. (BP) -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released research it conducted on teenagers who participated in a study of "unintended" pregnancies. An examination of the research reveals the idea of "safe sex" is nothing more than a myth.
The CDC discovered that 45.3 percent of the teens who gave birth as a result of an unintended pregnancy had conceived while they were using either "highly effective" (birth control pill, et al.) or "moderately effective" (male condom, et al.) contraceptive methods.
The research was published in the CDC's "Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report" for Jan. 12 and titled "Pregnancy Contraceptive Use Among Teens with Unintended Pregnancies Resulting in Live Births -- Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System (PRAMS), 2004-2008."
Keep in mind the unintended pregnancy study only tracked teenagers who gave birth. No information was gathered on teens that experienced unintended pregnancies and then opted for an abortion. It would be interesting to know how many of these girls were also using contraceptives when they became pregnant.
It is worth noting that 21 percent of the unintended pregnancies occurred while the girls were using what is touted as a "highly effective" contraceptive. According to the CDC, these methods like "the pill," should be effective at least 92 percent of the time.
Additionally, girls became pregnant 24.2 percent of the time when using "moderately effective" condoms. According to the CDC, male condoms are 85–98 percent effective at preventing pregnancy.
Given those statistics, perhaps the CDC needs to reexamine the actual effectiveness of contraceptives. Especially given the fact that the agency reports on its website, "In the United States, almost half of all pregnancies are unintended." While not all unintended pregnancies are a result of failed contraception, the recent CDC study seems to suggest that many are caused by failure.
In spite of the fact the CDC considers condoms to be only moderately effective in preventing pregnancy, many in society continue to push them as the primary answer to combating teen pregnancy.
Consider the following quote taken from a website providing information for teens about sexual activity: "Research continues to show that condoms are one of the best methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy and are one of the only methods for sexually active individuals to protect themselves against STDs, including HIV."
Does research really continue to confirm that? The CDC says the low end of condom effectiveness is 85 percent against pregnancy. A study released by the World Health Organization in 2004 stated that "compared with no condom use, consistent condom use resulted in an overall 87 percent reduction in risk of HIV transmission."
Eighty-five to 87 percent might be great if you're calculating a free-throw percentage in basketball. However, when it involves the failure rate of a product that could result in a significant life changing consequence -- pregnancy or a terminal illness -- then it is not nearly as attractive.
Consider that in Russian roulette you have an 83.4 percent chance of firing an empty chamber. But no one encourages participation, even though the odds of getting a bullet are relatively low. The stakes of dying are simply too high. The same is true with regard to teen pregnancy and HIV.
The common sense solution to combating teen sexual activity is to advocate the only standard that is absolutely effective -- abstinence until marriage. The message should be repeated over and over and over. Additionally, teens should be given the unvarnished truth about contraceptive effectiveness as well as all the realities and consequences of teen parenthood.
Some scoff at the suggestion of advocating sexual abstinence to teens. "Teens are going to have sex and there is nothing anyone can say to dissuade them," contend many in the culture. Of course, few make the same argument when it comes to teens and smoking. Few say, "You can't stop teens from lighting up either, so why try. Just steer them to filtered brands and lighter tobacco blends."
Smoking is vilified, ridiculed, regulated and taxed all in an effort to encourage people to steer clear of the unhealthy habit. In spite of all efforts to dissuade smoking, people still light up.
While it is true that you cannot prevent any negative behavior completely, you can raise a healthy standard and insist it is the best way to live. At the same time you can discourage adverse alternatives; over time many will embrace the positive standard.
Imagine if we used the same vigor to encourage teens to abstain from sex as we do in dissuading them from smoking. I believe many more would choose abstinence.
We should like never before encourage teenagers to abstain from sex until married. Especially given that the recent CDC study has exposed that there is no such thing as "safe sex;" it is nothing more than a myth.
Kelly Boggs is a weekly columnist for Baptist Press and editor of the Baptist Message (www.baptistmessage.com), newsjournal of the Louisiana Baptist Convention. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).