Does Less Sex Education Lead to Less Sex?

Teen pregnancies in England fell dramatically after cuts to funding for a sex education program, according to a new study. The analysis, published in the Journal of Health Economics last month, examined the effect of budget cuts to government-run teen pregnancy prevention programs including sex education, free condoms and access to the morning after pill in the last decade.

Between 1999 and 2010 the British government invested millions into expanding access to birth control and sex education through the national Teenage Pregnancy Strategy program. Funding was cut in 2008, decreasing the program budget by 70 percent. Politicians and activists claimed teen pregnancy would rise tremendously due to budget cuts.

Instead, England saw a nearly 50 percent drop in the conception rate among women under the age of 18 between 2007 and 2015. The statistics show the lowest level since 1969, leading the study’s authors to conclude government initiatives to reduce teen pregnancy may be “counterproductive.”

“Put simply, birth control will reduce the risk of pregnancies for sex acts which would have occurred anyway but may increase the risk among teenagers who are induced by easier access to birth control either to start having sex or to have sex more frequently,” wrote the study’s authors, David Paton from the University of Nottingham and Liam Wright from the University of Sheffield.

Paton and Wright collected and examined data from 149 local districts between 2008 and 2014. Their conclusion: More sex education and easier access to contraceptives is not just unhelpful, it’s likely harmful.

Whereas some anticipated the rates of pregnancy would drop the most in the areas with the smallest cuts, “to our surprise, we found the opposite,” Paton and Wright wrote. “Authorities making bigger cuts saw relatively large decreases in both birth and abortion rates among teenagers.”

While critics attempt to find alternate explanations for the study, some experts have praised the results. Jill Kirby, columnist and former director of the Centre for Policy Studies claims the study “proves exactly what those of us who have specialized in this area have been saying for years.”

“For decades we have failed young teenagers by making sex acceptable and facilitating it… Today, once more, there is clear evidence of a direct correlation between increased sex education and teenagers having more sex. Yet still, the official approach is to insist that sex education-at younger and younger ages-is the only answer to the crisis.”