Not So Fast, Mrs. Sanger

Remember last March when the CDC announced 1 in 4 teenaged girls in the US has an STD? And everyone drew the conclusion that abstinence education isn't working? Turns out that study --which, by the way, has yet to be released-- is rather dubious. For starters, the dramatic headlines confuse presence of infection with disease (a defense that doesn't comfort me much). More importantly, look at how the number is derived:
Forhan examined the 2003-04 database for the age groups covering 14 to 19. She found good records on 615 women, of whom 18.3 percent had HPV, 3.9 percent carried chlamydia, 2.5 percent had trichomonias, and 1.9 percent had HSV-2 (herpes simplex virus). The four mini-surveys were combined, and CDC officials determined that 25.7 percent of the 615 women had one or more of the four diseases, according to a CDC briefing chart.
If we really want a picture of whether abstinence education is working, however, we need to put the numbers in context.
Other CDC research shows that infection rates for most serious sexual diseases, including syphilis, gonorrhea, and chancroid, are sharply below 1990 levels—syphilis reached a historic low in 2000. The CDC’s tests showed that none of the 18- and 19-year-old women in the study were infected with HIV or syphilis, but officials did not mention this success in the press release.
Not to mention:
Teenagers’ exposure to STDs has also dropped because their sexual activity declined from 1998 to 2002. The decline was 20 percent among girls, and 40 percent among boys, according to the CDC report, “Teenagers in the United States: Sexual Activity, Contraceptive Use, and Childbearing, 2002,” last updated in March 2006.
40% decline in sexual activity among teenage boys? It's working.