Survey sheds light on attitudes toward teen pregnancy

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the teen birth rate declined by 6 percent, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also recently released a survey (not to be confused with the NCHS study) regarding attitudes toward teen pregnancy. Instead of discussing the study, I’d like to address the teen responses to the survey.

The survey found that 82 percent of teens “think [16 and Pregnant] helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it,” which isn’t a surprise. It’s like the slides of sexually transmitted infections they show you in health class — that lesson about herpes has much more of an impact when you see it rather than just hearing about it.

I agree that 16 and Pregnant can definitely have a positive effect on teens, but some of the other survey results show that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to education about sex and pregnancy. Of those surveyed, 78 percent said they had all the information they needed to know to avoid an unplanned pregnancy — though 49 percent knew little or nothing about condoms and 34 percent agreed that birth control didn’t matter — pregnancy would just happen if “it is your time to get pregnant.”

These results indicate a serious lack of comprehensive sex education — if someone thinks that they know the only way to prevent pregnancy, and thinks the only way is abstinence, then yeah, they aren’t going to search for condoms or consider birth control. This is the danger of abstinence-only sex education — abstinence is undoubtedly the best way to prevent pregnancy, but it isn’t the only way. Teens need to know that it’s not divine will or fate that gets people pregnant — unprotected sex is what leads to pregnancy, and teens have the choice to use protection to prevent pregnancy.

Interestingly enough, 80 percent said it would be easier to delay having sex if they had a more open, honest relationship with their parents — with about two-thirds of both teens and adults agreeing that teens don’t use contraception primarily out of fear of parents finding out about it. And about the same number of parents said they’d be happy to find out their kids were using protection if they were having sex.

I find this statistic particularly interesting because this season on 16 and Pregnant, so many more of the teens had an open relationship with their parents regarding sex. The moms were constantly questioning their teenage kids, asking them why they had unprotected sex when they’d been taught about condoms and safe sex. One mom even put condoms under the bathroom sink for her daughter to use if necessary. I agree that open communication is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think it’s extremely far ahead of other reasons teens might not use protection, such as lack of sex education or pressure from a significant other.

The survey also addressed sexting, with 71 percent of teens and 81 percent of adults agreeing that “sharing nude or semi-nude images of themselves or other teens electronically (through cell phones, websites, and/or social media networks) leads to more sex in real life.” That is extremely concerning, considering how the “typical” age for people to get cell phones is getting younger and younger, and the expectation of sex adds pressure and danger to people who send pictures of themselves perhaps not with sex in mind (both teens and adults).

The survey results are very interesting, but they don’t lead to a definitive answer on what could be responsible for the drop in teen pregnancy. For adults the drop could definitely be related to the economy, but teens aren’t worrying about the economy when they are having sex. Both abstinence and comprehensive sex ed groups could try to claim victory. Regardless of MTV’s influence, the survey highlights that teens are still very under-educated about sex, and nearly three-quarters of adults said they’d want their kids to learn both about abstinence and contraception.

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