Teen pregnancy: It's the attitude, stupid

Carolyn Moynihan
7 Jun 2010
Reproduced with Permission

The "comprehensive" sex education crowd in the United States are fond of saying that abstinence-only education has been responsible for the stalling of a downward trend in teenage pregnancies and childbearing that started about 1995. A new government report, however, suggests another reason.

The other reason is motivation, and it has a lot to do with the boys.

Data from the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth shows that most teenagers who have ever had sex (about 40 per cent of all teens) used contraception the first time: 79 per cent of females and 87 per cent of males. Condoms had been used at least once by 95 per cent of these young people. But, but… most of them think it is OK for a unmarried girl to have a baby and a significant number would be happy if they did. HealthDay reports:

Seventy-one percent of female teens in 2006-2008 "agreed" or "strongly agreed" that "it is OK for an unmarried female to have a child," about the same proportion as 2002. But now 64 percent of males agreed with the statement, up from 50 percent in 2002.

Fourteen percent of females and 18 percent of males interviewed said they would be "a little pleased" or "very pleased" if they or their partner got pregnant. On the flip side, 58 percent of never-married female teens and 47 percent of males said they would be "very upset" if this happened, pointing to the importance of motivation in not getting pregnant.

Another, perhaps related statistic has caught the eye of reporters: 17 per cent of sexually experienced girls had used the rhythm method (natural family planning) to avoid pregnancy, as compared to 11 per cent in 2002. It would be surprising if they managed that better than any other method that teens attempt to use.

Bill Albert of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy -- an organisation that supports the comprehensive sex-ed approach -- draws the moral of the story:

"When we talk about teen pregnancies and unplanned pregnancies more generally, people tend to focus on the important issues of cost and access [to birth control]," said Albert. "These are two critically important issues but I think that we often overlook this great ambivalence that many people have about when and under what circumstances to start families. Clearly, if you put a condom in everyone's hands they are not going to use them if they're ambivalent about getting pregnant. Cost and access are absolutely critical but so is motivation."

The full study can be found at the US National Centre for Health Statistics website.