Ten Reasons for the Drop in Teen Pregnancy

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Last week we made two very exciting announcements! First, we released our first ever North Carolina State of Adolescent Sexual Health and Action Plan. The report details the state’s decline in teen pregnancy, and how we can keep it going. Second, we announced a 10-year goal to reduce teen pregnancy 30% by 2020.

Producing the State of Adolescent Sexual Health and Action Plan was a lot of fun. (Okay, it was as much fun as writing and designing 30+ pages on a serious deadline can be. With Christmas in the middle.) Writing the report and its recommendations involved lots of out-loud daydreaming and discussion about all the good that is happening – and all the good that could be happening.

This list didn’t make it into the final edit of the report. Still, we were kinda excited by it and wanted to make sure it made it beyond the walls of our little office. So, here are the…

Ten Reasons Teen Pregnancy Rates Went Down

1.  More girls use birth control, many for non-contraceptive reasons.

Increased use of birth control is one of the biggest changes we’ve seen in the past few decades – a time span when our state’s teen pregnancy rate dropped more than 50%. A full 96% of sexually active teen girls have used some method of contraception. Beyond that, 33% of teen girls use contraceptives only for a reason other than birth control – like to control acne or menstrual disorders. These girls end up more protected when they do become sexually active.

2. AIDS and condom awareness have been around since today’s teens were born – and they paid attention.

Magic Johnson announced he had AIDS before today’s teenagers were born. To them, PSAs on MTV, notes on condom boxes, and billboards have always carried a clear message: Wear a condom! Reinforcing that message has led to many things – including fewer pregnancies.

3.  Boys are sticking it to stereotypes: More of them use condoms and wait for the right relationship to have sex.

Think teen boys are just hormone-addled, risk-seeking blockheads? You’re wrong! 8 in 10 boys now use a condom the first time they have sex. For boys who haven’t had sex yet, 31.8% say it’s because they haven’t found the right person yet.

4.  Fewer young people are having sex at all. (They’re too busy texting!)

For the first time in recorded history, the majority of teens have not had sex. There are lots of reasons why. Just for a general sense, consider this: How do the teens you know spend their free time? Now go watch 1982′s Fast Times At Ridgemont High and compare…

5.  More teen moms are saying one baby is enough for now!

Historically, more than 30% of teen pregnancies in North Carolina happen to a girl who has been pregnant before. In 2010,that proportion dropped to 27%. As we’ve gotten better about helping teen parents achieve their educational and career goals, teen parents have gotten better about waiting to have more kids.

6.  Marriage and family is a far-off thing, not a just-after-high school thing.

First comes love, then comes marriage… In spite of end-of-society-as-we-know-it fear-mongering, this is still how it works most of the time. The change: the median age of marriage is now 28.6 for men and 26.5 for women. Fewer teens getting married means fewer teens starting families.

7.  College, career, car, and the fun twenties are goals more youth are working toward.

Hope for a good future matters! Used to be that lots of our teens looked straight to a career on a local farm or in a local factory. Many of those opportunities are gone. Now a high school diploma and a college degree are nonnegotiables. (Whether they’re attainable or not is a different issue.) Young people clearly know having a baby is a roadblock to that kind of future.

8.  Teens are “staying virgins” by having oral or anal sex instead of vaginal sex.

“Virginity” – an iffy cultural concept with no set definition – has been promoted ad nauseum to teens, largely through federal grants to programs that are proven not to work. We hear increasingly from teens who have internalized messages about not having vaginal intercourse, and who engage in oral or anal sex to uphold that standard. While we won’t see pregnancies from oral and anal sex, it’s hard to consider this good news. Being able to understand, navigate, and negotiate a variety of sexual behaviors is a life skill. Most educational programs don’t equip young people to do that in a safe, healthy, and responsible way.

9.  More schools and community groups are using evidence-based programs that are proven to work.

Research shows that a kid who goes through a comprehensive sex education program is 50% less likely to get pregnant than a kid who goes through an abstinence only program. Schools, community groups, churches, and parents now have a lot of research on what actually works. They’re increasingly putting it to use. And, really, there’s no good excuse not to.

10. It’s just not cool. 9 out of 10 teens say they don’t want to get pregnant or cause a pregnancy.

Did you hear the one about MTV glamorizing teen pregnancy? How ’bout those welfare mamas that just want to have a baby so Uncle Sam can pay for it? Both are urban legends. The truth is 9 in 10 teens say they want to avoid getting pregnant or causing a pregnancy.

Teen pregnancy has dropped 53% in North Carolina since 1991. We’ve all worked really hard to help young people access better education, better health care, and to give them more options in life. But if you ask me who gets the real credit for the drop, I’d have to be honest with you: The teens did it.


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