Sex Ed? Degrassi? Something's working

Is it official yet? That teenagers are more likely to engage in responsible sex (or abstain, for that matter) when they know a thing or two about how things work? According to a new Statistics Canada report, the number of 15 to 19 year-olds who reported having sex at least once is on the decline, down to 43 per cent in 2005 from 47 per cent in 1996/1997.

In and of itself, this news isn’t good or bad. The kids are always going to have the sex, no matter what kinds of fire-and-brimstone-type videos they see in health class. The real good news is that, if the report is to be believed, the way they’re going about it has improved: more consideration, more condoms.

Teenage girls, in particular, are holding off. In 1996/1997, over half (51 per cent) of Canadian girls 15 to 19 had had sex at least once. That number has sunk to 43 per cent. Which would seem to suggest that they’re more informed about the consequences of rash decisions. For one thing (Jamie Lynn Spears and her gushy Ok! Magazine spread aside), they’re figuring out that being a teen mom comes with a hefty price tag—and not everyone can pay it off with a few well-placed media snapshots.

So score one for Canada’s liberal sex-ed stylings. But here’s something to be concerned about: even though more teenagers are using condoms than they used to, it turns out it’s teenage boys, not girls, who are leading the charge where love-and-glove are concerned. Eighty per cent of boys reported using a condom the last time they had sex, compared to only 70 per cent of girls (up from 65 per cent). In the U.S., where sex education doesn’t tend to be as progressive (and in some areas, that’s the understatement of the century), the same trend is happening. There, the overall rate of condom use among teens is lower than in Canada, but boys are still far more likely to use one (70 per cent) than girls (56 per cent). Maybe this accounts for all of the girls out there on Alesse who think STDs only happen on Degrassi The Next Generation (season 4). Or maybe parents and teachers need to revisit the basics with them, just one more time. Often.

A related question: does anyone know what’s going on in Nova Scotia? The number of teenagers who are sexually active there spiked from 31 per cent in 1996/1997 to 49 per cent in 2005. No other province showed anything close to that sort of jump. Is it the salty air?

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