A new study from the CDC has shown that not only are fewer teenage girls having intercourse, more of them are using effective forms of contraception. Unsurprisingly, this is reflected in the teen birth rate, which is still ridiculously high compared to other industrialized nations but at least is getting better.
While these improvements are difficult to attribute directly to sex education changes across the country, it's important to notice that improving teen sexual health isn't just about encouraging teens to have less sex. It's about encouraging them to make smarter sexual choices in general - which includes not only deciding when it is and isn't the right time to have sex, but also how to do so more safely.
Safety isn't simply a matter of using effective contraception and protecting yourself from STDs. It also means being able to figure out what you want and tell that to a potential partner, without being too afraid of what they might think to freely speak your mind. It means learning to value your desires, your health, and your safety enough to put them first, even if it might mean sacrificing a relationship. Most importantly, it means learning that being with someone is never more important than being able to live with yourself.
Far too often, when we talk about sex education, we focus on telling teens what to do and what not to do. Instead, we need to spend more time teaching them how to figure out what they want and need from sexual relationships, communicate their desires, and enforce those decisions. We can't make choices for them, but we can teach them how to make better choices themselves.