More than one in five teenage girls have used the morning-after pill, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten years ago, only one in 12 teen girls had reported using the pill; now, all teens can purchase it without a doctor's prescription, according to the Associated Press. The increase in teenagers' use of the morning-after pill could be the result of a few things: the fact that it's easier to access than ever before; that awareness of the pill has been raised via sex education; or — in the most unfortunate case — it might be the simplest contraception method for American teenagers to access.
Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, told the AP that more teen girls buying the morning-after pill now that it's more accessible simply means "teens, like adults, often are not very good at contraception," and "in the battle between sex and sex with contraception, sex often wins." That view of the study makes the new stats seem rather benign, and they really are. They mean that teens are finding a way to have better control over their sexual health. Unfortunately, of all contraception methods, relying on the morning-after pill as a primary form of birth control is not a good idea, according to the Office of Population Research at Princeton University.
Relying on the morning-after pill is less effective than other contraception methods, and there haven't been many studies on the effects of taking the morning-after pill repeatedly.
So, why might teens be relying more on a last-minute contraception method when their use of other contraception stayed the same? Maybe for a few reasons: the morning-after pill is easier to access than a birth control prescription, it doesn't require a tutorial, and it doesn't carry the ridiculous stigma that it "ruins" sex in the same way condoms do.
These guesses become a little more substantiated when stats tell us that 37 states require sex education to include abstinence, and a shocking 26 of those states require that abstinence be "stressed" as the best method to prevent pregnancy, according to Think Progress. Some states, like Mississippi, don't require schools to provide any sex education courses. In 2012, a study by the Guttmacher Institute found that 41 percent of teens ages 18 to 19 reported knowing little or nothing about condoms and 75 percent said they know little or nothing about the contraceptive pill.
Given the state of sex education and sex negativity in the U.S., it's easy to say that when teens are presented with only a few options — abstinence, sex with a weird, intimidating latex tool they've never been taught to use, sex with a prescribed birth control that might require their parents' permission, or unprotected sex that they can later "solve" with one quick pill — they're going to choose the one that's the most hassle-free. The fact that more teenagers are using the morning-after pill rather than having conversations about the most effective methods for contraception and sexual health just confirms that our culture is still telling them that what they're doing should be hidden and shameful.
These new stats only deserve a little celebration in the name of teen sexual empowerment and contraception use. Mostly, they should tell us that we need to continue the push for sex positivity, sex education reform, and the push for realistic, supportive conversations about sexual health.
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