Kristin Luker

Recent Articles

Does Liberalism Cause Sex?

Conservatives say liberalized access to contraceptives and sex education in the schools have led to more unprotected teen sex and teen births. But let's look at the evidence.

The drumbeat of criticism that eventually drove Joycelyn Elders out of office as Surgeon General may be only a fading memory, but the controversies over sex education and contraception that dogged her tenure linger on. To conservatives, nothing symbolizes the illusions of liberalism better than the failure of permissive sexual policies. In the years since contraceptives became widely available and schools began offering sex education, haven't kids become more promiscuous? Aren't births to unmarried teenage mothers soaring? Therefore, conservatives say, the government ought to practice some abstinence of its own and stop sex education in our schools and programs that promote contraception. But, like so many conservative arguments that appeal to a general sense of social decline, this one ignores some well-established facts. More teenagers use contraception, they use it sooner after starting sex, and they are becoming more sophisticated about its use. Pregnancy rates among sexually...

Dubious Conceptions: The Controversy Over Teen Pregnancy

Reports of “babies having babies” have set off alarms of a teen pregnancy epidemic. But the link between poverty and single parenthood is more complex than is often alleged.

The conventional wisdom has it that an epidemic of teen pregnancy is today ruining the lives of young women and their children and perpetuating poverty in America. In polite circles, people speak regretfully of "babies having babies." Other Americans are more blunt. "I don't mind paying to help people in need," one angry radio talk show host told Michael Katz, a historian of poverty, "but I don't want my tax dollars to pay for the sexual pleasure of adolescents who won't use birth control." By framing the issue in these terms, Americans have imagined that the persistence of poverty and other social problems can be traced to youngsters who are too impulsive or too ignorant to postpone sexual activity, to use contraception, to seek an abortion, or failing all that, especially if they are white, to give their babies up for adoption to "better" parents. Defining the problem this way, many Americans, including those in a position to influence public policy, have come to believe that one...