A few weeks ago, I was at my job helping a customer when a young girl caught my attention. She could not have been older than 15, and her belly was too large to be hidden. She was noticeably pregnant, and what struck me as more odd was that she was pushing a stroller with a young infant whose only word seemed to be "mommy," referring to the young girl. I am often alarmed when I see an extremely adolescent girl experiencing motherhood at a time when her main concerns should be far less than those of raising another human being. The reality of the matter is that every year more and more teens are having children at an alarmingly young age. This issue raises the question of what can be done to prevent and lower the rates of teenage pregnancy. In order to prevent teenage pregnancy, teenagers need to have a comprehensive understanding of abstinence, contraceptive techniques, and consequences.
Although there are many different ways to prevent a teenage girl from becoming pregnant, the only one that is absolutely effective is sexual abstinence. This method is the only one that guarantees no risk of getting pregnant and protects the teen from getting any STD's. For many years abstinence has been viewed as a decision based upon a religious or moral belief. In the article "Promotion of Sexual Abstinence: Reducing Adolescent Sexual Activity and Pregnancies," Hani R. Khouzam says, "Sexual abstinence is not associated with public health risks and needs to be presented and promoted as the most effective primary prevention for unplanned pregnancies" (2). In this article, Dr. Joycelyn Elders proposes teaching sexual abstinence as prevention for pregnancy, not as a religious or moral belief. According to Khouzam, in a study involving 7,000 Utah teens, the students were taught one of three abstinence curriculums stressing abstinence as a pregnancy prevention method. They were surveyed three times based on their attitudes on the issue. After taking the abstinence curriculum, the studies found that from these students, a significantly higher percentage of them remained virgins than those who did not go through the program (2). With results like this, it becomes evident that abstinence courses in schools are a sure way to get teens to realize the responsibility that comes with becoming sexually active, and to get them thinking about choosing to remain abstinent. The more information teenagers are given on the subject, the higher the chances that they will make this decision. For this reason, it is important that teenagers be taught the health benefits of choosing to remain abstinent.
Another form of teenage pregnancy prevention that is being taught in schools is various contraceptive techniques. Although abstinence remains the best way to prevent pregnancy among teens, it is a fact that there are still a large number of them who will be involved in sexual relations. For this reason, it is important that teens be provided with broad information on how to do so responsibly using various contraceptive techniques. Most of the sex education in schools consists of one message: "Don't have sex--but if you do, use a condom" (Khouzam 3). The problem that rises from this is that teenagers are not being exposed to extensive information on the various forms of birth control, condoms, and other methods of prevention that are available. According to Helen Lippman, contraceptives are talked about in sex education classes, but only as being ineffective in preventing pregnancy and diseases (1). Also, these classes on contraceptives should include information on how to obtain the different methods of birth control. Jocelyn Elders has also advocated school-based health clinics nationwide with the purpose of reducing teen pregnancy with the availability of contraceptives (Khouzam 3). This is a way to ensure contraceptive use for many young teens who, rather than going to their parents for help in obtaining birth control, choose to have sex without protection simply because that protection is not made available to them.
For most teenagers, the real consequences of having a child at such a young age are unknown. Teens need to be aware of the harsh reality of raising a baby and the negative effects that an unplanned pregnancy can cause in both the mother and the child's lives. In the article "The Decline of Teen Marriage Is a Serious Problem," Patrick F. Fagan talks about the effects of having a child out of wedlock at a very young age. He states that the mother's new offspring can experience the following: "Lowered health for newborns and increased risk of early infant death; Retarded cognitive, especially verbal, development; Lowered educational achievement; Lowered job attainment: Increased behavior problems; Lowered impulse control; Warped social development; Increased Welfare dependency" (1). Teenage mothers must be aware of the tremendous effect their offspring will have on society in the future, and the high risk of the cycle repeating once this child becomes a teen. Teens must also be aware of the fact that an unplanned pregnancy will take a toll on other aspects of their lives. For example, as Fagan points out, less than one-third of teen moms who have a baby before they are eighteen finish high school (2). When exposed to such information about the results of an unplanned pregnancy, teens are forced to analyze whether sex is worth the risk of forever changing their lives, and those of their future children.
On the other hand, for some people sex is viewed only as a method of reproduction, and the idea of using contraceptives and other methods of birth control is simply unnatural. This belief is preached by many religious institutions, primarily within the Roman Catholic Church. In the article "The Purpose of Sex is Reproduction," Paul Murray claims that "Sexual intercourse cannot be separated from its primary purpose of reproduction" (1). Many followers of the Roman Catholic Church have adopted this principle. Although the purpose of sex can be though of as only for reproduction by some, it cannot be narrowed down to just having sex to have children for everyone. For example, a couple that consists of two mature adults who carry a strong, stable relationship should be able to use sex as a way to express their love, share intimacy, and expand their emotional bond. Further, the idea that a teen will take this beliefthe idea that sex is only to produce children into consideration when choosing whether to become sexually active is an unrealistic and ineffective way of thinking. This belief will not prevent teenage girls from experimenting and running the risk of becoming pregnant. Of course nothing will work universally, not even education, or contraception.
So as research shows, it is the job of parents and schools to teach teens about the negative effects of teenage pregnancy. The parents can strongly influence their children's decisions by taking the time to be involved when the issue of sex arises. The schools can also do their part by providing the necessary information on preventing pregnancies and by encouraging teens to make responsible choices when having sex. Therefore, the responsibility of adults is to provide teens with a thorough understanding of abstinence, contraceptive techniques, and the consequences of sexual activity.
Fagan, Patrick F. "The Decline of Teen Marriage Is a Serious Problem." Teen Pregnancy and Parenting.
2001. CurrentControversies. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 19 April 2005.
Khouzam, Hani R. "Promotion of Sexual Abstinence: Reducing Adolescent Sexual Activity and
Pregnancies." Southern MedicalJournal 88.7: 1-6. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 April 2005.
Lippman, Helen. "The Dilemma of What to Teach in Sex Education." Teens and Sex. 2002. Contemporary
Issues. OpposingViewpoints Resource Center. Web. 5 April 2005.
Murray, Paul. "The Purpose of Sex is Reproduction: The Power of Humanae Vitae." Human Sexuality.
1994. Opposing Viewpoints # 174. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Web. 5 April 19, 2005.