Monday, June 1, 2009

Teen pregnancy prevention needs to be a priority

Below is a copy of an article I wrote that was published in the La Grande Observer on Friday May 29. They have not posted the article online yet.

Health Matters
Tristin Mock, ND

In the US, 3 out of every 10 girls will be pregnant as least once before the age of 20. According to the Oregon Department of Human Services, in 2004, at least 5,832 teenage girls became pregnant in Oregon. In comparison, in 2003, there were only 3,117 new cases of breast cancer, in all ages and sexes, in Oregon. Many people are ignoring this disturbing trend that allowed over 2% of teenage girls, including 106 girls under the age of 15, in our state to become pregnant.

DHS reports that around 30% of teen pregnancies end in legal abortion. Of those girls who underwent abortion procedures, 68.5% were not using contraception! Most teens wait 6-12 months after becoming sexually active to seek contraception. During this time they are at increased risk for pregnancy and contracting sexually transmitted infections.

There is hope in slowing this trend. Research has shown five things that result in teens using birth control regularly, or postponing sexual activity. These five simple things are easily provided by supportive parents, schools, and communities.

Teens that have adequately discussed sexuality, pregnancy and birth control with their parents have lower pregnancy rates. Some parents may want to avoid discussing sexual health with their teens, but it is important. As the state pregnancy rate shows, it’s never too early to start these discussions. Be open and honest with your child. Age appropriate information can be found from a variety of sources including at

Another protective factor is having had a comprehensive sexuality education course. These courses are available in schools and the general community, including at churches. These classes are important to reinforce the message parents are giving children, and to provide a venue where children can ask questions they may be embarrassed to ask their parents.

Having realistic life options are important. Recently, increasing amounts of teens have decided that it’s cool to have a child. Many of these children do not realize the true impact of their choice. Of the families started by unmarried teen moms, 2/3 are poor. Children of teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely, suffer abuse and neglect, and end up in foster care compared to children of older parents.

Living in a supportive environment that contributes to an individual’s self-esteem can protect teens from pregnancy. High self-esteem can give teens the strength they need to resist sexual activity, or to assert their choices regarding safer sex practices. Being a community that offers varied activities for youth can help improve the self-esteem of teens.

Finally, sexually active teens are more likely to use contraception if there is guaranteed confidentiality and easy access to birth control. In Oregon, there are no laws limiting access to contraceptive services; family planning services are free for those who qualify through FPEP. Please call public health to see if you qualify and to schedule an appointment, 541-962-8801. Free condoms are available at public health for those who need them.

For more information about how to become involved in teen pregnancy prevention, or if you would like to participate as a member on the Union County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, contact Sandra Leavitt at the Mt. Emily Safe Center, 963-0602.

Tristin Mock, N.D., is an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer with the Public Health Team at Center for Human Development

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