How Can We Prevent Teen Pregnancy?

Teens of color have the highest pregnancy rates. 

Posted: 04/10/2014 10:17 AM EDT
How Can We Prevent Teen Pregnancy?

Here’s what we know: Teen pregnancy rates are at an all-time low. A 2013 study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that teen pregnancy has dropped dramatically, especially among Black teens.

But before we celebrate, a recent CDC report reminds us that teen pregnancy is still a major public health issue, especially among teens of color. Researchers found that Latina teens had the highest rates with 25.5 percent, compared to 21.9 of African-Americans, 17 percent of American Indian/Alaska Natives, 17 percent of whites and 4.1 of Asians.

Other findings include: 

—Each year, 86,000 teens between the ages of 15-17 give birth each year. 

—Nearly 1,700 teens ages 15 to 17 years give birth every week.

—More than 1 in 4 teens that gave birth were ages 15 to 17, before teens typically complete high school.

—Giving birth during the teen years affects whether the mother finishes high school, goes to college and the type of job she will get, especially for younger teens ages 15 to 17.

So what can be done about it?

First, comprehensive sex education — at an earlier age — is key. CDC researchers found that more that 80 percent of teens that were having sex had not received any formal sex education. And while some critics boast that sex-ed encourages sex, the science says otherwise: It actually delays sex and empowers students to make better decisions about contraception.

But there are many missed opportunities in the doctor and clinic’s office to educate teens, too. This is why the CDC is recommending that doctors, nurses and clinic workers do the following:

—Provide confidential, respectful and culturally appropriate services that meet the needs of teen clients (this is especially important for Black and Latino teens).

—Encourage teens who are not sexually active to continue to wait.

—Offer sexually active teens a broad range of contraceptive methods and encourage them to use the most effective methods.

—Counsel teens about the importance of condom use to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.

And while all of this is promising and much-needed, one noticeable missing piece to these recommendations is male responsibility

Yes, it is extremely important for young girls to be empowered and knowledgeable about their bodies, sex and contraception, but they didn’t get pregnant by themselves. Given that not all female teens are on birth control pills, condoms may be the only form of contraception being used. And given that boys typically control whether or not condoms are used, it’s hard to reduce these numbers without having prevention strategies in place for both boys and girls. 

Hopefully in the near future the CDC will release a report that addresses this gender discrepency. 

Read more about what both girls and boys can do to prevent teen pregnancy here.

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