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9.2 Teenage Sex and Pregnancy

LEARNING OBJECTIVES


  1. Describe how many teenagers have had sex.

  2. List several problems associated with teenage pregnancy and birth.

  3. Discuss how to reduce teenage pregnancy and help teenage mothers.

We saw earlier that the percentage of teenagers who have sex greatly increased during the 1960s and 1970s. Regardless of what one thinks about premarital sex, this increase had at least two important practical consequences: It greatly increased the risk of teenage pregnancy, and it greatly increased the risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). For these and other reasons, teenage sex rightly arouses much concern. This section examines trends in teenage sex and pregnancy, the reasons for these trends, and possible measures for reducing teenage pregnancy. As part of this examination, it also discusses sexually transmitted disease, which affects sexually active teens but also sexually active people beyond their teen years.

Teenage Sexual Activity


As noted earlier, teenagers are much more sexually active today than they were before the sexual revolution. About 43 percent of never-married teens ages 15–19 of both sexes have had sexual intercourse (Martinez et al., 2011); [1] this percentage represents a drop from its highest point, in 1988, of 51 percent for females and of 60 percent for males. About three-fourths of girls in today’s sexually experienced group and 85 percent of boys in this group use contraception, most often a condom, the first time they ever have sex. In their most recent act of sexual intercourse, almost 86 percent of girls and 93 percent of boys used contraception, again most often a condom.

The birth rate for females aged 15–19 in 2009 was 39.1 births per 1,000 females. This rate represented a substantial decline from the early 1990s, when the rate reached a peak of almost 60. However, it was still twice as high as Canada’s rate and much higher yet than other Western democracies (see Figure 9.4 "Teenage Birth Rates in Selected Western Democracies (Number of Annual Births per 1,000 Women Aged 15–19)").



Figure 9.4 Teenage Birth Rates in Selected Western Democracies (Number of Annual Births per 1,000 Women Aged 15–19)

http://images.flatworldknowledge.com/barkansoc/barkansoc-fig09_004.jpg

Source: Data from Martinez, G., Copen, C. E., & Abma, J. C. (2011). Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, 2006–2010 national survey of family growth. Vital and Health Statistics, 23(31), 1–35.

If 43 percent of teens have had sexual intercourse, that means the majority of teens, 57 percent, have never had intercourse. It is interesting to examine their reasons for still being virgins. Table 9.4 "Main Reason Given for Never Having Sexual Intercourse, Ages 15–19 (%)" shows the relevant data. The top reason for both sexes is religion and morals, followed by concern about a possible pregnancy and not having found the right person with whom to have sex.

Table 9.4 Main Reason Given for Never Having Sexual Intercourse, Ages 15–19 (%)




Females

Males

Against religion or morals

38

31

Don’t want to get (a female) pregnant

19

25

Haven’t found the right person yet

17

21

Don’t want to get an STD

7

10

In a relationship, but waiting for the right time

7

5

Other reason

12

8

Source: Martinez, G., Copen, C. E., & Abma, J. C. (2011). Teenagers in the United States: Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing, 2006–2010 national survey of family growth. Vital and Health Statistics, 23(31), 1–35.


The Problem of Teenage Pregnancy


Most teenage pregnancies and births are unplanned and are part of a more general problem for all women in their childbearing years. About one-half of all pregnancies in the United States, or more than 3 million pregnancies annually, are unplanned. Approximately 40 percent of these unplanned pregnancies end in abortion, and about 10 percent end by miscarriage. Putting all these numbers together, about 1.6 million live births happen each year as a result of unplanned pregnancies (National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 2011). [2] The cost of medical services for unplanned pregnancies and for the infants that are born from many of them cost the nation more than $11 billion annually (Gold, 2011). [3]

About one-fifth of all unplanned pregnancies, or almost 700,000 annually, occur to teenagers; another 50,000 teenage pregnancies are planned. These two figures add to 750,000 teenage pregnancies annually, with some 400,000 births resulting from these pregnancies (Kost, Henshaw, & Carlin, 2010). [4]Altogether, about 18 percent of women, or one of every six females, become teen mothers, and in several southern and southwestern states this percentage is as high as 25–30 percent (Perper & Manlove, 2009). [5]

Although teenaged pregnancies (and births from these pregnancies) are far from the majority of all pregnancies, unplanned or planned, they pose special problems (American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, 2011; Anderson, 2011). [6] On the individual level, pregnant teenagers are more at risk than older pregnant women for high blood pressure and anemia, and they are also more likely to experience early labor, premature birth, and low birth weight. In addition, because teenagers are more likely than adults to have STDs, pregnant teenagers are more likely than older pregnant women to have an STD while they are pregnant, either because they already had an STD when they conceived or because they contract an STD from having sex during pregnancy.

Many pregnant teenagers decide to drop out of school. If they stay in school, they often must deal with the embarrassment of being pregnant, and the physical and emotional difficulties accompanying their teenage pregnancy can affect their school performance. Once the baby is born, child care typically becomes an enormous problem, whether or not the new mother is in school. Because pregnant teenagers disproportionately come from families that are poor or near poor, they have few financial resources and often have weak social support networks, either before or after the baby is born (Andrews & Moore, 2011). [7]

At the societal level, teenage pregnancy and motherhood are very costly in at least two important respects. First, because pregnancy and childbirth complications are more common among teenagers, their health-care expenses during and after pregnancy and childbirth are often higher than the expenses incurred by older women. Medicaid, the federal government’s national health plan for poor families, often covers much of these expenses, and the premiums that private health insurance companies charge are higher than otherwise because of their expenses when they insure the families of pregnant teenagers.

Second, the children of teenage mothers are at risk for several kinds of behavioral and developmental problems. The Note 9.7 "Children and Our Future" box discusses these problems further.




Children and Our Future


Kids Having Kids: The Children of Teenage Mothers

Teenage mothers (ages 15–19) are often unprepared emotionally or practically to raise a child. They often have poor parenting skills and, for example, do not take the time to read daily to their children and otherwise stimulate their cognitive development. They are also less likely than older mothers to provide proper emotional support for their children. In addition, the stress they experience as very young mothers puts them at risk for neglecting or abusing their children. The fact that teenage mothers tend to come from low-income families and continue to live in poverty or near poverty after they become mothers compounds all these problems.

For all these reasons, the children of teenage mothers are at greater risk for several kinds of problems. These problems include impaired neurological development, behavioral problems, and poor school performance.

In particular, when compared to children born to older mothers, the children of teen mothers have lower cognitive scores on the average when they start kindergarten, and they continue to have lower math, reading, and vocabulary test scores as they grow older. These problems persist into their own adolescence, as they are less likely than children of older mothers to graduate from high school. Children of teen mothers are also somewhat more likely to have chronic health problems during childhood and adolescence. When the children of teenage mothers become adolescents, they are also more at risk for delinquency and drug use and to have a prison record by the time they reach young adulthood.

The teenage pregnancy and birth rates in the United States are by far the highest of all Western democracies. The problems that children of teen mothers experience underscore the need for our nation to do everything possible to prevent teenage pregnancy.

Sources: Andrews & Moore, 2011; Hoffman & Maynard, 2008 [8]


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