Teen pregnancy rates have fallen, but it's not because teenagers are having less sex, says a new study. According to the study, which was published online in the Journal of Adolescent Health, teen pregnancy rates have dropped from 2007-2012 and actually have declined since the '90s, besides a stall from 2005 to 2007. The study looked at data from the National Surveys of Family Growth, specifically at young women 15 to 19 years of age. And, while there has been a lot of rhetoric about young people having less sex, the study actually found that it was more about contraceptive use — and not the amount of sexual activity — that was responsible for the decline in teen pregnancy rates.
It's down to more young women using contraceptives, more availability of contraceptives, and combining different birth control methods for maximum effectiveness. The study explains, that between 1995 and 2012, any method use at last sex among adolescent women increased from 66 percent to 86 percent, while use of multiple methods increased from 11 percent to 37 percent. That's at least a 20 percent jump in both categories — which is not too shabby at all.
The good news about combining different methods of birth control — like perhaps using a condom while having an IUD or being on the Pill — means you can find the best match for you. And it's so important to find a method you like because it means you're more likely to use it. "There is a birth control that’s right for everyone, but there's no ONE right birth control for everyone," Ginny Ehrlich, Chief Executive Officer at The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, tells Bustle. "IUDs and the Implant are the most effective methods and they are low maintenance. Leading medical experts recommend them for teens. They're more than 99 percent effective with typical use (since you basically can't mess it up). We love these methods but they are not for everyone. Teens can talk with their health care providers about what is right for them. It’s a great idea for teens to use both contraception AND condoms (but not two condoms!) to make sure they’re protected against STIs."
But that's not all. Here's what else the research gleaned about our approach to birth control generally:
1. More Work Needs To Be Done
It's important to remember that while there has been a decrease in teen pregnancy, that doesn't mean that we've done all we can. The study actually emphasized that, despite these drops, adolescent birth and pregnancy rates are still higher than in the U.S. than in other developed countries. "The U.S. still has the highest teen pregnancy rates in the industrialized world. We still have a lot of work to do in the United States to reduce rates of teen pregnancy – and in particular – reduce the disparities in rates for young women of color and young women who are living in poverty," Ehrlich tells Bustle. "As this study suggests, we need to ensure that all teens – no matter who they are or where they live – have easy access to accurate information and the full range of contraceptive methods."
2. Sex Education Could Be Lacking
One of the most surprising parts of the study for me was that the study found that formal sex education had decreased and abstinence-only sexual education has increased. Terrifying, right? Which means that an increase in contraceptive awareness is coming from elsewhere. But imagine how much more could be done if we started it with the schools?
"As the study pointed out, there is a lot more that needs be done to ensure that teens have access to reliable and accurate information, including effective sexuality education being more consistently taught across the country," Ehlrich tells Bustle. "The type and quality of sexuality education that teens receive varies widely across the United States and even school to school. If and what type of sexuality education is taught is by in large a local decision. It is a very important part of the equation, but because of the lack of consistent and quality instruction, this study didn’t conclude that it played a role."
I was lucky to grow up in New Hampshire where I was given comprehensive (and not abstinence-only) sex ed, but not everyone is— and geography shouldn't affect the quality of your education.
3. Family Planning Centers Are Key
While the study mentioned the expansion of insurance has played a role in access to contraceptives, it also emphasized that public-funded family planning centers are still so important in serving the sexual health needs of young people. Places that provide comprehensive and confidential advice and care to young people are crucial, as anyone who couldn't talk to their parents about sex knows. Just another reason to love Planned Parenthood, people.
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