A new study from the Guttmacher Institute unsurprisingly finds that greater knowledge about contraceptive services is directly correlated to a decrease in young adults’ risky sexual behavior. However, after quizzing a nationally representative sample of 1,800 sexually active Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 on their basic knowledge of contraception methods, Guttmacher reports that “more than half of young men and a quarter of young women received low scores on contraceptive knowledge, and six in 10 underestimated the effectiveness of oral contraceptives.” The study ultimately concluded:
Programs to increase young adults’ knowledge about contraceptive methods and use are urgently needed. Given the demonstrated link between method knowledge and contraceptive behaviors, such programs may be useful in addressing risky behavior in this population.
Pervasive misinformation about contraceptives — often leading to higher rates of unintended pregnancies — is one of the serious consequences of abstinence-only education programs. Sex education programs that lack comprehensive sexuality information prevent young adults from fully educating themselves about their reproductive health, their contraceptive options, and the best sexual practices to avoid potentially risky behavior.
The Guttmacher study highlights this very educational gap. Although a majority of respondents (69 percent of the women and almost half of the men) agreed that they were “committed to avoiding pregnancy,” they seem to doubt that birth control is an effective means to achieve this goal. 40 percent of respondents said that birth control doesn’t matter because “when it is your time to get pregnant, it will happen.”
It’s especially important to emphasize the need for comprehensive sexual education programs in light of the Obama administration’s recent decision to support an abstinence-only curriculum as part of the Department of Health and Human Services’ list of “pregnancy prevention programs.” Considering that abstinence-only programs have been proven to be less effective at preventing pregnancy, how much more evidence does the Obama administration need to revoke its endorsement of birth control misinformation campaigns?