The good news is that teenage pregnancy rates across the nation are at their lowest in four decades. According to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the teen birth rate declined 41 percent overall from 2006 to 2014. Yet, still today, the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate among developed nations.
Nearly 1 in 4 teens will become pregnant by the age of 20. And significant disparities remain. The pregnancy rate for black and Latina teens is more than double the rate of white teens, and girls from rural communities and Southern states have the highest number of teenage births. At the same time, one national organization is rethinking how they approach the sexual health of girls.
Traditionally, preventing pregnancy and sexually-transmitted disease has been the key component – and often the sole focus – of sex education for teens. For Girls Inc. however, making sure girls are sexually healthy means not just providing them with adequate prevention information. In fact, the organization’s comprehensive and positive approach to healthy sexuality has distinguished Girls Inc. in the field for nearly 20 years.
Beginning this summer, an expanded program will be available to the more than 80 affiliates in the Girls Inc. network, based on the current trends and rapidly changing needs of girls. The new Girls Inc. Healthy Sexuality program will encompass four focus areas: healthy relationships; sexuality; sexual health and reproduction; and sex, media, and technology. There will also be enhanced activities to help guide conversations at home around these often tough topics.
“Girls are growing up in a fast-paced, complex world with unprecedented access to sexual information, messages, and images many of which promote behaviors, relationships, or attitudes that pose challenges to their sexual health,” said Judy Vredenburgh, President and CEO of Girls Inc. “Girls need accurate, truthful information, the trust and support of caring adults and mentors, and the know-how to use technology in a positive way.”
This emphasis on “Truth, Trust, and Technology” equips girls at Girls Inc. to own and take charge of their sexual health. At the core of the Girls Inc. healthy sexuality work is also the foundational belief in girls’ rights and abilities. “When girls have a strong sense of personal power and self-worth, they are able to make informed decisions based on their own values and beliefs,” said Vredenburgh.
To ensure a program that is accurate, relevant, and cutting-edge, Girls Inc. collaborated with a diverse group of esteemed institutions and leaders including a team of experts from the Center for Sex Education (CSE) a leader in the field of sexuality education, and Eliza Buyers, MD, FACOG, Children’s Hospital of Colorado, a specialist in pediatric and adolescent gynecology. Girls Inc. has also continued to collaborate with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, a relationship that began more than 30 years.
“Together we have made historic strides in reducing teen and unplanned pregnancy over the past two decades but we cannot mistake progress for victory," said Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "As we celebrate the tremendous progress the nation has made, we must also renew our commitment and catalyze a sense of urgency about relationships, sex, and contraception. The best progress is made through strong partnerships and we are proud of working side-by- side with Girls Inc. as they continue their important work in making sure that all girls and women – no matter who they are or where they live – have the power to decide their futures."
The development of the updated program was also guided by an extensive research process, including focus groups of girls ages 12-18 and a pilot testing phase at four Girls Inc. sites in Denver, Lynn, Mass., Durham, Ontario, and Omaha, NE. The first component of the expanded program was developed specifically for girls ages 12-14. The next two components for elementary-age girls and their parents and for high-school teens will be rolled out through the first quarter of 2017.