Sex Education Less Effective in Conservative States, Study Finds

February 8, 2012 — States with increased comprehensive sex education in schools tend to have lower teen birth rates, but sex education has not reduced conservative states' teen births, according to a study published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, MSNBC's "Vitals" reports.

Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis analyzed birth rates among girls ages 15 through 17 in 24 states from 1997 through 2005. States with more religious and conservative residents tended to have higher teen birth rates, the researchers found. Although comprehensive sex education was associated with lower teen birth rates, the association disappeared when the researchers controlled for state characteristics, including religiosity and abortion policies.

Arkansas, a state with a large conservative population, had the highest birth rate at 34.8 births per 1,000 girls ages 15 to 17, while New Hampshire, a more liberal state, had the lowest birth rate at 9.7 per 1,000.

The researchers suggested that teens living in conservative states might be taught a less-inclusive sex education curriculum, disregard the lessons or be less likely to obtain an abortion, all of which could lead to higher birth rates. Patricia Cavazos-Rehg of WUSTL noted that the analysis did not consider pregnancy rate data, which are harder to obtain but could reveal whether access to abortion influenced the findings (Wanjek, "Vitals," MSNBC, 2/6).