Proactive education can help reduce teen pregnancies

Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen

Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen

Our Bodies, Our Lives 

Our Bodies, Our Lives focuses on issues surrounding women’s sexual, gynecological and emotional health.

Unintended teenage pregnancy is still a significant problem in the United States. When an unwed teen becomes pregnant, her future options can become very limited. If she has not yet completed school, gained employment skills or even had much opportunity to experience adult life, she is likely to face some challenges.

In 2010, approximately 368,000 U.S. teenagers 15-19 gave birth. Sixty percent of sexually experienced teens reported using a highly effective birth control like an IUD or hormonal method.

Given that so many teenage girls with unintended pregnancies were not using contraception when they became pregnant, it seems that proactive sexual health education might be a good way to reduce this burden. Even if abstinence is the program of choice, we feel that we are obliged to protect the younger generation by equipping them with information and education about their sexual health.

Teens younger than 15 accounted for 4,500 births in 2010, lending strength to the evidence that promotion of delayed sexual debut and increased use of highly effective contraception should prove effective at reducing teen pregnancy. It’s important to provide information about sexually transmitted infections and contraceptive options to those we most wish to protect.

Since many contraceptive options are only available through a health care provider, annual health visits for teens need to be encouraged, even in the most protective homes or maybe more so for those girls who cannot talk openly with their parents. As a parent, assurance that you have an advocate that your daughter can relate to and will heed advice from can be reassuring.

For those interested in the public health aspects of reducing teen pregnancy, consider involvement in schools and community-based programs for sexual health education for greatest impact on the next generation.

Imagine the ripple effect of saving even one child from premature motherhood. Opening dialog and quelling the stigma associated with these issues will go a long way to educating our sons and daughters and, ultimately, will help these boys and girls grow into happy, healthy partners for their spouses someday.

Many mature women visit our offices visibly terrified of open discussion about sexual health issues, yet craving the physical intimacy that can provide the kind of bond a marriage needs to survive for decades. To us, it seems a heartfelt and wonderful gift to give our children — the ability to manage their reproductive lives and learn, in an unthreatening environment, the joy and love associated with true love-making.

The ability to avoid unplanned pregnancy becomes essential as we place more emphasis on education and career development for young girls. We are slowly making headway toward gender and ethnic equality; we have not yet arrived. The definition of equality is somewhat controversial but includes equal opportunities for all people and an ability to fulfill one’s dreams, whatever they may be. This is, without doubt, something we should be trying to achieve for our children, and we will not get there without conscious effort. 

We will have arrived when couples have the option of reliable and reversible birth control options specifically for use by men, yet to be invented. For now, we progress slowly toward a truly equal world in which women have complete control over their bodies, their lives and their futures.

Drs. Tristi Muir and Catherine Hansen are gynecologists at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. For more information, go to www.utmbhealth.com/pelvichealth.

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