Mrs. Johnson tells all the students in her health class that abstinence is the only 100% effective method of preventing a pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease (STD). Well, we’ve got a message for all the Mrs. Johnson’s out there: teenagers are going to have sex no matter what! Instead of ignoring the problem at hand and preaching ineffective advice, we should teach our nation’s youth the safe and smart way to have sex since they’ll do it whether properly educated or not.
In 2011, a revamped sex education curriculum was introduced in several states. Since many schools are now teaching safe sex practices to their students, a Guttmacher Institute study shows a drastic decrease in teen pregnancy and abortions in the U.S; we reached a historical low in 2014. A variety of birth control methods are taught in schools, allowing adolescents to make better and more informed decisions regarding their sexual health. The drop in teen birth rates can be linked to one of two factors—either teens are having much less sex than they did in the 80s and 90s, or they are using contraception more frequently and accurately. I somehow doubt that hormone-overloaded teens are practicing abstinence, so it is likely the latter.
Although the numbers have dropped substantially, the U.S is still the highest ranking country for teenage pregnancy. Despite our recent success, we could, and should, be doing a lot better. Providing accurate and plentiful information and resources for high-schoolers is very important, but futile if they are not even able to access the birth control methods they learn about. Making different forms of contraception easily accessible is our next step toward bringing those statistics down even further.
Currently, the most common form of contraception amongst teenagers is the male condom and following closely behind is the birth control pill. These are the most common methods for the same reason: they are easy to find and gain access to. There is no age restriction, parental consent, or required prescription for condoms (not to mention how inexpensive they are). The pill requires slightly more effort to obtain but nonetheless, can be done by your average 16 year-old. The problem with these methods, however, is that their effectiveness relies solely on consistent and proper use. When I think of teenagers, the last adjectives that come to mind are consistent and proper. A teenage girl who is on birth control pills must remember to take her pill at the same time everyday without fail. It is almost inevitable that there will be a hiccup somewhere in her routine. I can’t even remember what I ate for lunch yesterday. Or perhaps a boy carries a condom in his wallet, awaiting the day he can get use out of it. By the time that day comes, he is using a condom that has passed its’ expiration date. Forgetting a dose of the pill or incorrectly using a condom lowers their effectiveness drastically.
An obvious solution is to make other forms of birth control just as easy to obtain. Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARC) are the most effective form of reversible contraception available today. LARCs include copper and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) and hormonal implants; of which most young girls have never even heard of. LARCs have a failure rate of 1% but due to the fact the contraceptives are inserted/implanted, the failure rate is typically not the result of user error.
In 2009, Colorado made IUDs and implants more accessible to teens for this very reason. It was clear to them that by offering these more effective methods to adolescents, the teen birth rate would drop; and it did. Between 2009 and 2013, the birth rate dropped by 40 percent while the abortion rate dropped by an impressive 42 percent! Numbers don’t lie, this is a proven way to reduce the statistics. Now the other 49 states need to follow Colorado’s example to get the U.S. ranking lower and also to help literally thousands of women.
This is perfect for teenagers because they won’t have the responsibility of remembering a pill everyday or keeping condoms in a cool, dry place. Ultimately, this will lead to an even larger decrease in the pregnancy rate of adolescents in our country.