Abstinence-Only Education Gives Birth to Arizona’s High Teen Pregnancy Rate

Arizona has an especially high teen-pregnancy rate. Arizona also promotes abstinence-only education in its public schools.

Arizona has an especially high teen-pregnancy rate. Arizona also promotes abstinence-only education in its public schools.

Arizona is known for a lot of things. The Grand Canyon, our universities, beautiful sunsets.

And, oh yeah, our truly awful teen pregnancy rate.

Ranked against the other 49 states, Arizona’s teen-pregnancy rate has been in the top 5 for years. And while you probably won’t see that little factoid emblazoned on a license plate anytime soon, teen pregnancy still has a significant impact on Arizona residents.


Abstinence-only education teaches that the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and STIs is to abstain from sex, which is true. It is also not very helpful to the 70 percent of teenagers who have had intercourse by age 19.


As of 2009, Arizona had the fifth highest teen birth rate in the United States. This trend is on the rise — as of 2006 the rate had increased by 6.5 percent. In 2009, 12,537 teenagers became pregnant. Of those pregnancies, 10,952 resulted in live births. While the majority of those women were either 18 or 19, that’s still about 3,500 girls under the age of 17 giving birth, a number that varies every year but generally stays in the 4000s.

Teen mothers are much more likely to drop out of high school and to skip college entirely. They struggle more financially and emotionally. Not to mention the fact that teen pregnancy costs the state $9 million a year.

Who else joins us at the top of the list? New Mexico, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi. What do we all have in common? Beautiful sunsets and abstinence-only education. Since I’m pretty sure the sunsets aren’t to blame, let’s talk about sex (education).

Abstinence-only education teaches that the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and STIs is to abstain from sex, which is true. It is also not very helpful to the 70 percent of teenagers who have had intercourse by age 19.

Abstinence-only education typically does not provide information on birth control or safe-sex practices. In fact, studies have shown that abstinence programs spread false information (e.g., touching another person’s genitals leads to pregnancy, half of gay men in the United States have AIDS) and shame.

The traditional thinking has been that teaching teenagers about sex will cause them to have sex. You know, like how wearing a raincoat causes it to rain? But studies actually show that sex education has no impact on teenage rates of sexual activity. Differences in education do, however, impact whether or not teens use protection. Teens who receive comprehensive sex education are 60 percent less likely to become pregnant than teens who received no education. Teens who receive abstinence-only education are just as likely to become pregnant as teens who receive no education at all.

We cheat our teens when we deny them access to accurate information about their bodies. The federal government spends billions of dollars every year on abstinence education, despite the overwhelming evidence that these programs aren’t just unhelpful to teens, they’re harmful.

OK, I’m getting off my soapbox now. But if you’re as annoyed as I am, you can read more here. Or check out “The Purity Myth” by Jessica Valenti.

Madelaine Archie wrote for Border Health Care, a blog focusing on health-care issues in the U.S.-Mexico border region.

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