Shocker: Contraception works better than abstinence to decrease teen pregnancy

If you’re wondering whatever happened to reality shows like MTV’s 16 and Pregnant, which appears to have quite literally disappeared from the face of the planet, well, there are finally some answers. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health found teenage pregnancy and birth rates are way down, and for a surprising-yet-also-not-surprising reason: a wider use of contraception. The study’s researchers, in association with the Guttmacher Institute and Columbia University, looked at federal data which revealed births among teenagers ages 15 to 19 dropped by 36 percent from 2007 to 2013, while between 2007 and 2011, pregnancies also fell by 25 percent. And yet throughout these periods of time, the average rate at which teenage girls were having sex remained unchanged.

It doesn’t exactly take a genius to figure out why,and to Laura Lindberg, the study’s lead author and a researcher at Guttmacher, it’s hardly a mystery what’s going on here. “By definition, if teens are having the same amount of sex but getting pregnant less often, it’s because of contraception,” Lindberg told NPR.

The study’s researchers concluded that “improvement in contraceptive use” resulted in the sharp decline in teen pregnancies, and noted that while no single form of contraception appeared solely responsible for this, teens were using contraception more often, and more effective methods, like birth control pills and IUDs, played a huge role. “If a teen uses no method, they have an 85 percent chance of getting pregnant [within a year]. Using anything is way more effective than that 85 percent risk,” Lindberg told NPR.

The researchers additionally noted that while birth rates between 2007 and 2013 and pregnancy rates between 2007 and 2011 experienced a dramatic, non-coincidental drop, the decline can really be traced back to the 1990s, when there was a noted rise in contraception use.

For further evidence that it’s wider use of contraception, not the puritanical policing of young women’s bodies, which has better helped teenage girls shape their lives and futures, look no further than the disturbing results of abstinence-only education in public schools. States with abstinence-only sex education by and large boast the highest rates of teen pregnancy, not only failing to establish fundamentalist conservatives’ utopian society of celibate young people, but disproportionately leading young women into poverty and spiking costs for public health care, foster care, welfare, and other related expenses amounting to nearly $9.4 billion annually, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Meanwhile, in 2015, when the state of Colorado offered free IUDs, it watched teenage birth and abortion rates collapse.

It’s really not that complicated, people. As Planned Parenthood Action put on Facebook with delightful, highly warranted smugness: “Hate to say we told you so: Give young people the tools and accurate information to plan their futures, and they will.”

It’s worth noting that according to the study, abortion has also been declining sharply among teenagers. On the surface, this could easily appear to be due to the spread of stringent anti-choice laws rendering it increasingly difficult for women of all ages to access abortion. But, since these laws have been found to not affect rates of abortion at all (just make them more difficult to obtain), the decline in abortions among teenage girls speaks more than anything to wider use of contraception and lower pregnancy rates.