While unplanned pregnancies among teens in the U.S. is at the lowest rate in years, American teenagers are still getting pregnant at a much higher rate than their counterparts in other countries – 3x more often than teens in Germany and France, and 4x more often than teens in the Netherlands. In 2010, unplanned pregnancies among U.S. teens dropped to 34.3 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 according to the most recent health statistics. That’s great news, but it’s still the highest teen pregnancy rate among developed nations.
Why are so many teenagers in the U.S. still getting pregnant?
A report released last month by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) surveyed 5,000 girls in 19 states who got pregnant unintentionally and gave birth between 2004 and 2008. 50% of these girls did not use birth control and one third of these girls didn’t think they could get pregnant.
As the article Half of Teen Moms Don’t Use Birth Control – Why That’s No Surprise in Time Magazine point out, what’s behind these numbers is unclear. Previous research has found that teenage girls who get pregnant have a number of misconceptions about their menstrual cycles. Some think that they can’t get pregnant the first time they have sex. Others simply don’t know how ovulation works and when they are most likely to be fertile. Still others simply have a vague idea that they can’t get pregnant at all.
So what can be done?
Educate, educate, educate.
Unfortunately all too often the adults in a teen’s life think that it’s someone else’s job to educate her about her sexual health. They are also likely to have their own biases and hang ups which make it difficult for them to convey this information in a straightforward, accurate way.
Fortunately some groups have started to address sexual health education based on postive-outcome reasearch. For instance, Advocates for Youth is an organization whose mission is “to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health”. Even public school districts such as Montgomery County in Maryland and Hennepin County in Minnesota are innovating their curriculums to offer sex education through comprehensive, multi-year health curricula that is age appropriate.
Girls need to know when they can get pregnant and be given accurate information about their basic biology. While it’s tempting to want to scare them into thinking that they can get pregnant anytime of the month or that they can get pregnant from just kissing a boy, it does girls a disservice. Teens (both girls and boys) need to be empowered and given the tools that will help them make good decisions in their lives. Studies show that providing teens with accurate sex health information delays the age of first sex and lowers teen pregnancy rates.