At EmpowHer, we get more and more questions from teens – mostly female, but some male as well – about the actual mechanics of getting pregnant. They are worried that they are pregnant even though they had on five layers of clothing while having “dry sex.” Or they don’t know what could be wrong even though their period is two months late. Or they don’t know the names of male and female body parts, and answering their questions first becomes an exercise in translation. It’s clear that whatever sex education exists for these teens – whether abstinence-only or comprehensive – it’s not doing the job.
So it’s a little extra frightening to read the results of a new government survey released Wednesday by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. The report says that at least 40 percent of unmarried U.S. teens have had sex at least once, and 20 to 25 percent of them say they would be happy if a baby was the result.
"This is really quite alarming," Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned PregnancyAlbert, told HealthDay News. "I don't think it takes a Ph.D. to understand that in this day and age and in this economy the route to success doesn't begin with a family at age 16."
From the story:
“The study, which analyzed data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, also found that about one-quarter of female teens and 29 percent of males reported two or more sexual partners, the same as 2002. Females who started having sex when they were younger were more likely to accumulate more partners.
“The majority of teens had used some form of contraception during their first intercourse: 79 percent of females and 87 percent of males. And condom use is on the rise. As in 2002, it ranked as the most common form of birth control and was used at least once by 95 percent of teens.
“The next favored form of birth control was withdrawal (58 percent), then the pill (55 percent).
“Seventeen percent of teens said they had used the rhythm method, as compared to 11 percent in 2002.”
Using the rhythm method can be alarmingly imprecise, as it rests on the woman’s ability to know when she’s ovulating, and that can be a moving target even in those who are accustomed to tracking their periods and tuning in to their body’s ovulation signals. And because sperm can live in the body for maybe 3 days after intercourse and an egg is viable for 24-36 hours, it’s necessary to avoid sex for a period of somewhere between a week and 10 days. If you misjudge, pregnancy can occur.
And even those possible pregnancies may not be the deterrent to young people that they used to be. The study said that 14 percent of females and 18 percent of males would be “a little pleased” or “very pleased” if they or their partner got pregnant. This worries experts in the field.
"One of the great success stories of the past two decades has been the extraordinary declines in teen pregnancy and childbearing," said Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. "This progress has recently stalled out."
From USA Today:
"I think we need to better understand if this is a change in attitude toward pregnancy or a change in attitude toward abortion," says Laura Lindberg, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute.
Given the publicity about unmarried celebrities having babies and the growing number of single mothers overall, Lindberg says, it's not surprising that teens are more accepting of the notion.
"Teens don't live in a vacuum," she says. "What they see adults doing around them is going to reflect in their own behaviors and attitudes."
The report shows why the 15-year decline in the teen pregnancy rate began to flatten out in 2005, says Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
"It seems to me we have failed as a nation to convince teens that it is in their best interest for them to postpone families," Brown says.
The HealthDay News story:
The USA Today story:
The National Survey of Family Growth home page:
A link to a pdf of the survey results: