Citing a new study in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, The Globe and Mail reports that Canada experienced a significant drop (36.9 per cent) in teenage births and abortions between 1996 and 2006. This is attributed to better access to contraception, better sex education, and changing social norms, but not to a decline in actual sex among teenagers. Rather, Canadian teenagers are now more likely to use condoms and/or the contraceptive pill than was the case in the mid-1990s.
I don't actually see anything terribly wrong - I mean morally wrong - with having a child when you're very young or with having an abortion. In neither case are you hurting someone else (leaving aside the very brief pain suffered by a fetus if the abortion is late enough in the pregnancy). However, having a child when you're still a teenager is highly imprudent (in modern societies where it takes so long to be qualified for most careers), and having an abortion is traumatic. It's better for teenage girls not to be confronted with the choice of either a career-stopping event or an abortion, so it's preferable if they are able to have active sex lives without getting pregnant. But for adults to insist that teenagers abstain from sex is unrealistic and in any event an outrageous demand - by what right do we tell young people who are biologically ready, and psychologically eager, for the extraordinary joys and pleasures of sex not to seek them? Why are we entitled to impose this burden on younger people with less power? (It's not as if the teenagers set things up so that early motherhood is such a career-stopper. Maybe we could do something about that.) When adults talk that way, demanding abstinence, it's pompous bullshit ... and it's no wonder that many teenagers regard it as such.
It's better and smarter if, as a society, we teach young people to have sex in ways that avoid pregnancy ... and to provide emotional and other support for those teenage girls who do nonetheless get pregnant. Moral condemnation and harsh treatment get us nowhere.
So, public policy should look kindly on teenage sex while encouraging teenagers to use the contraceptive pill, condoms, oral sex or mutual masturbation (as alternatives to vaginal sex), and whatever other practices are likely to make teenagers' sexual conduct safer and less likely to lead to pregnancy. In addition, public policy should make it easy for teenage girls to get tested for pregnancy and to obtain abortions if they so desire. We shouldn't be too solicitous of the "rights" of moralistic parents who make life hell for their children.
Above all, we should be frank about what we ask of teenagers, and should avoid loading them with moral guilt about behaviour that is very natural to them.
It seems that many people leap from the (perfectly plausible) idea that we'd like, as a society, to reduce teenage pregnancies to the (dangerous) idea that teenage sex is morally wrong. That's precisely the wrong approach. The more successful approach is to give teenagers reliable information and encourage them to think about it and use it responsibly. It seems fairly clear that unwanted outcomes (basically, teenage pregnancies) are lower in countries that take the latter path. As suggested in the article, it's actually better for societies to take a more relaxed, less moralistic, attitude to teenage sex. Paradoxical perhaps, but true.
E.g. compare the dramatic difference between the less moralistic Canada and Sweden, on one hand, with the more moralistic US and UK:
Among the four countries compared for 2006, Canada boasted the lowest teen birth and abortion rate per 1,000 women aged 15 to 19 (27.9), followed by Sweden (31.4), England/Wales (60.3), and the United States (61.2).
The policy choice is clear-cut.