Arkansas has the highest teen birth rate in the nation.
Nearly half of Arkansas’ high school-aged teens self report that they are sexually active, but there is no legislation requiring evidence based, medically accurate, and age appropriate sexual health education in public schools.
As a result, sexual health education varies widely throughout Arkansas, with most school districts implementing either no sexual health education or abstinence only programs. The most recent national data clearly shows that abstinence-only education as state policy is ineffective in preventing teenage pregnancy, and may actually be contributing to the high teenage pregnancy rate in the U.S.
By ignoring this problem, Arkansas is perpetuating a cycle of poverty and poor education. Parenthood is the leading cause of school dropout among teen girls, and a child born to unprepared teen parents is more likely to end up in foster care and suffer abuse and neglect. In addition, children of teen mothers perform worse on many measures of school readiness, are more likely to repeat a grade, and are more likely to drop out of high school than children born to older mothers.
"Because fewer Arkansas teens are completing high school and going on to college, the population of the state will be less educated, less prepared, and less competitive in the workforce, which impedes earnings potential and increases the need for federal and state support. Arkansas collects less revenue in taxes, loses out on purchasing power and experiences reduced worker productivity as a result of teen pregnancy and parenthood."
- Delivering better Education: Impact of Teen Pregnancy & Birth on Education in Arkansas
In 2014, nearly 3,800 Arkansas youth ages 15-19 gave birth. These unintended teen pregnancies, as well as sexually transmitted diseases bring high social and economic costs for every Arkansas taxpayer. In 2010, teen childbearing cost Arkansas taxpayers an estimated $129 million.
In addition, sexually transmitted diseases in a woman can cause cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, infertility, pregnancy problems, widespread infection to other parts of the body, organ damage, and even death.
Fortunately, there is plenty of documentation on programs that do work to cut down on teen pregnancy rates. If a school is going to teach sexual health education, it is imperative that the curriculum be medically accurate, age-appropriate and evidence-based so our young people receive the information they need to make healthy decisions.
Comprehensive sexual health education teaches that abstinence is the best method to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancy, while also teaching about condom and contraceptive usage. It also teaches interpersonal communication and relationship skills to empower young people with the ability to explore their own personal values, goals, and vision for the future.
Research shows evidence based programs reduce risk behaviors, including a delay sexual activity, a reduction in frequency of sexual activity, a reduction in number of sexual partners, and increased use of contraceptives.
This evidence based education stresses abstinence, but also gives young people the information they need to protect themselves. Research shows evidence based programming reduces risk behaviors and a teen who has received evidence based sexual health education was 50% less likely to experience pregnancy than those who received abstinence-only education.
Arkansas students need legislation mandating evidence based, comprehensive sexual health education in public schools that includes information on both abstinence and contraceptive usage, while also providing information on communication skills and healthy relationships.