Teenage Sex and Pregnancy
Teenagers (ages 13 to 19 years) in the United States are engaging in sexual activity in increasing numbers. Some children, even younger than 13 years of age, are having sex. The high rate of adolescent pregnancy is a national concern. The African American community has been and continues to be greatly impacted by the consequences of high rates of teen sexual activity and pregnancy. It is our responsibility to love, nurture and educate our youth so that they can make responsible choices with regard to their sexual behavior.
Teen Sexual Activity
National data reveals that:
- 25 percent of 15-year-old females and about 30 percent of 15-year-old males are sexually active.
- By 18 years of age, 66 percent of females and 68 percent of males have engaged in sexual intercourse.
As stated above, a significant number of teens are sexually active before age 15. Research has shown that 7 in 10 females who had sex before age 14, and 6 in 10 who had sex before age 15, had sex without their consent; against their wishes.
Here are some facts about teenage pregnancy in the United States:
- Every year, close to one million young females under the age of twenty become pregnant.
- 13 percent of all births in the United States are to teenagers.
- Black American teenagers have higher pregnancy and out-of-wedlock birth rates than their White and Hispanic peers. However, since 1980 these rates are rising faster among Whites.
- A female who does not use birth control the first time she has sexual intercourse is four times more likely to become pregnant than the person who uses birth control.
- 9 times out of 10, the sexually active female who does not use birth control will become pregnant within a year.
- Research information indicates that one-third to one-fourth of all teenage mothers will have a second child within two years of their first child.
Poverty, Sexual Abuse, and Teen Pregnancy
Poverty appears to lead to early childbearing. 60 to 80 percent of the 500,000 teenagers giving birth each year live in poverty and come from low-income families. The children born to teenage mothers in poverty are more apt to suffer poor health, perform poorly in school, be neglected or mistreated, and engage in antisocial behavior (when compared to children born to mothers in their 20’s and 30’s).
It is disturbing to know that greater than 60 percent of teenage mothers have a history of sexual molestation and sexual abuse by adults living in their home. Over 50,000 teen pregnancies each year are the result of rape. The males who impregnate these teen mothers are 20 years of age, with an average age of 27. Certainly, there needs to be more discussion within families about the issues of sexual molestation and abuse.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and Teenagers
Every year, some 3 million teenagers are infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Data reveal that 1 in 4 sexually active teens will become infected with STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, herpes and AIDS. Genital warts caused by the human papillomavirus are also common.
More than 2,900 teenagers were diagnosed with AIDS, as of June 1997. Teen sex and the very real possibility of becoming infected with sexually transmitted diseases should not be taken lightly.
Comments From Teen Mothers and Pregnant Teens
A recent Sally Jessie Raphael television talk show focused on teenage mothers. Teens appearing on the show ranged in age from 12 to 19 years of age. A summary of their comments follows:
- All expressed regret at having a baby at such a young age. One fourteen year old remarked that it is expensive caring and providing necessities for a baby. She stated that life is not easy for her. Taking care of the baby is an “around the clock” activity; she has little time for herself.
- A pregnant fourteen year old, speaking to prospective pregnant teens, said that it would be hard for a pregnant teen mother to realize her life dreams with the added responsibility of a baby. She lied to the father of her baby that she was thirteen when they had sex; he was 20 years old. Her comment: having a baby is a lot of work. A teen mom can’t have fun like other young persons of her age group.
- More than one of these teens said that they needed more love and support from their mothers before they became sexually active and eventually pregnant. No fathers were present on this show. A lack of parental influence is a factor in teenage pregnancy.
What Can We Do?
Teens and other persons need sex education and communication skills that will help them make wise choices about sexual behavior. Discussing sexual behavior options (including abstinence) with youth prior to the time that they become sexually active is of paramount importance. Methods to prevent pregnancy and STDs should be discussed in detail. Parents, schools, the church, the media and other concerned sources play important roles in educating youth.
Regardless of their income status, teenagers need access to comprehensive health education, contraceptive services, STD screening and treatment, and prenatal services. Both females and males must be included in the prevention programs. They should be made aware of the relationship between teenage pregnancy and risk factors such as poverty, sexual abuse, substance abuse, violence, poor school performance, and dropout rates.
- Teen sexual activity and pregnancy is a national concern.
- 66 percent of females and 68 percent of males are sexually active by age 18.
- Pregnancy rates are very high for African American teens; too high in fact.
- Parents need to love, teach, and guide children as early as 7 and 8 years old about sex education and responsible sexual behavior.
- Black teens must be educated and advised to utilize accessible contraceptive services, as well as STD screening and treatment services, especially if they are sexually active.
- Black teens should strive to stay in school, get a good education whether college or a trade profession, so that they can rise above the entrenched poverty which is a main cause of early childbearing among disadvantaged teenage females.
- We must recognize, minimize, and eradicate risk factors such as sexual abuse, substance abuse, poor school performance, dropout rates, violence, poverty, and racism that has a connecting relationship with teenage pregnancy.
- We must love and encourage our young people to achieve, excel, and be the very best that they can be in all areas of life.
Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting.
Robert W. Buckingham, Dr. P.H. and Mary P. Derby, R.N., M.P.H. , ”I’m Pregnant, Now What Do I Do?”, Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1997.
P.L. Sunderland, Ph.D. and Joan E. O’Brien, Why I waited: Successful Women Talk About Their Pregnancy Choices, New York: The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc., 1997.
Teenage Pregnancy: Opposing Viewpoints, Stephen P. Thompson, book editor, San Diego, CA: Green Haven Press, Inc., 1997
Progress Report For: Black Americans, The United States Public Health Service (PHS), Healthy People 2000 Objectives, 1994.
Sally Jessie Raphael – national television talk show – 16 February 2000.