Although rates have decreased over the last few decades, teen pregnancy continues to be a significant problem here in the United States. Teens account for one-fifth of all unintended pregnancies each year, and according to the Center for Disease Control, 2013 saw 273,105 babies born to women between 15 and 19 years of age. Although teen pregnancy reached its peak in 1990 and has been decreasing ever since (the thinking is teens are actually less sexually active than they have been in the past) the issue is far from "solved."
Not only does teen pregnancy contribute to high school dropout rates among girls — only half of teen moms get their diploma — but it also accounts for $9.4 billion in cost to taxpayers as they pick up the tab for foster care, health care, and lost revenue. The babies of teenage mothers suffer, too; they are more likely to incur health problems and have fewer academic achievements than babies born to adult women over the age of 19.
May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, so now is as good a time as ever to bust some of the myths circling the topic can be detrimental, they need to be addressed. Here are seven teen pregnancy myths, busted.
Myth #1: Teen Pregnancy Is On The Rise
Truth: Actually, teen pregnancy rates have fallen — and are at an all time low for the first time in 30 years. According to a 2014 Guttmacher Institute report, in 2010 there were 614,000 teen pregnancies (ages 15 to 19) in the United States; a 51 percent decline since 1990, when teen pregnancy was at its peak. In fact, in just the two-year span between 2008 and 2010, the teen pregnancy rate dropped by 15 percent.
Myth #2: You Can’t Get Pregnant The First Time You Have Sex
Truth: Although the basis for this myth remains a mystery, far too many teens still believe this to be true. (At 14, I believed it too.) The fact is that you absolutely, positively, can get pregnant the first time you have sex — if you don’t use protection. If you’ve gotten your first period, it means that your body is now ovulating every month, so yes, pregnancy is a possibility.
Myth #3: Teen Pregnancy Is Mostly An ‘Urban’ Problem
Truth: Hardly. While many teen pregnancies and births happen in “urban” areas, teen pregnancy rates in rural parts of the United States are actually one-third higher than in the rest of the country.
A 2013 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that not only do rural areas have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, but also the slowest decline of them, too. From 1990 to 2010, teen pregnancies dropped by 40 percent in urban areas, whereas the rural areas only saw a decrease of 32 percent. The Guttmacher report also found that those in rural areas are less likely to practice safe sex than teens who live in the cities and suburbs.
Myth #4: Teen Pregnancy Rates Are Only Dropping For White Teens
Truth: Teen pregnancy rates have been dropping across the board for all ethnicities since 1991. Non-Hispanic white teens have seen their teen pregnancy rate fall by 53 percent, Asian and Pacific Islander teens have seen their rate fall by 64 percent, Hispanic teens have had a decrease in teen pregnancy rates by 56 percent, and non-Hispanic black teens have had a 63 percent drop.
Although, as of 2012, the teen pregnancy rates for Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teen girls was still higher than that of non-Hispanic white girls, the fact remains that rates are dropping for all ethnicities.
Myth #5: Abstinence-Only And Religious Education Prevents Teen Pregnancy
Truth: Yeah, right. For all their praise of abstinence-only “sex” education, a 2009 study by Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh found that states with all those ultra conservative religious beliefs actually have some of the highest teen pregnancy and highest teen birthrates in the country.
According to the research, although these communities were successful in discouraging the use of birth control, they’re not so great at discouraging teenagers from experimenting with sex. Mississippi is both the most conservatively religious state and has the highest teen birth rates in the country, with 55 of out every 1,000 teens having a baby (their teen pregnancy rate is 76 out of every 1,000). Less conservative states like New York have a teen pregnancy rate of 63 out of every 1000, and 37 of those result in abortion.
Myth #6: Teen Pregnancy Is No Worse Here Than In Most Other Countries
Truth: While teen pregnancy is definitely something that affects all countries, all ethnicities, and all socio-economic backgrounds, according to the CDC, the United States’ pregnancy rate is “substantially higher than in other western industrialized nations.”
It also costs taxpayers a lot, with $9.4 billion dollars being spent on foster care, health care, and lost tax revenue in 2010 alone.
Myth #7: All Teen Pregnancies Are Unintended
Truth: While it might be hard to believe that someone under the age of 20 would want to take on such a responsibility, it does happen. As was seen in 2008 when 18 girls in Gloucester, Massachusetts entered into a “pregnancy pact,” for some teens, the desire to be a mom so early in life is real.
A 1998 Guttmacher Institute report about California’s teen pregnancy rates found that 32 percent of the teens actually wanted to get pregnant, 25 percent were indifferent to it happening or not, and only 42 percent had become pregnant completely by accident.
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