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Healthy Balance

Preventing Teen Pregnancy

Mary A. Sullivan coordinates community advocacy, education and outreach efforts for the Teen Health Center. She’s provided health education to local students and parents for over 20 years. Here she shares her thoughts about teen pregnancy prevention.

pregnancy testMost teens are healthy. Since they often do not need treatment for acute or chronic medical conditions, they miss the healthcare they need the most: prevention and education. Reproductive health situations fit this bill: pregnancy testing, obtaining contraception and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections.

Facts About Teen Pregnancy

In 2010, the local teen pregnancy rate was:

  • 30.3 per thousand in Charlottesville
  • 9.5 per thousand in Albemarle County

The teen birth rate in 2010 was:

  • 11 per thousand in Charlottesville
  • 7.4 per thousand in Albemarle County

Costs of Teen Pregnancy

The medical and sociological literature is filled with information about the many and varied societal costs when teenagers bear children. Teen pregnancy is associated with:

  • Future poverty for mothers and their children
  • Increased high school drop-out rates
  • Poorer physical and mental health outcomes for the children born to teens

Preventing Pregnancy in Teens

Let’s look at pregnancy prevention for teens. Keep in mind that teens are as heterogeneous as adults, so one size does not fit all when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy. Those who care for and about teens should:

  • Support those who have decided to postpone sexual activity
  • Provide information about and access to contraception for those who are or may soon be sexually active
  • Identify and give opportunities to those young women for whom having a baby seems like their sole life option

Why Teens Don’t Use Birth Control

So what stops sexually active young women from obtaining and using effective contraception?

Many teens are not aware that they can get contraception without parental permission, and many teens do not know where or how to get it. Sometimes, the attitudes of healthcare providers present obstacles, such as in cases where providers don’t ask about sexual activity or offer birth control as an option to teens.

In Virginia, minors can consent to obtain and use contraception without involving their parents, but we encourage teens to talk to their parents about these important issues.

Long-Acting Birth Control: A Recommended Option

In the past, popular contraceptive choices were birth control pills and condoms, both of which leave enormous room for user error. Inconsistent use of condoms is common, and birth control pills can be forgotten or the prescription not refilled.

In recent years, long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), which is safe, effective and easy to use, has been recommended as an optimal option for teens by healthcare providers and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. Both the contraceptive implant (Nexplanon) and the IUD (intra-uterine device) have the potential to greatly reduce teen pregnancy.

Unplanned pregnancies are preventable. Given the likely negative consequences teens face by having babies, long-acting reversible contraception can be a life-changer.

Questions? Call the Teen Health Center for a private, free conversation.

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