Teen Pregnancy: Get the Facts

Pregnancy, whether accidental or not, is a complicated, emotional event for the pregnant woman, her partner, and those close to her. Raising a child is a huge commitment that requires enormous amounts of time, effort, and money.

For teenagers, pregnancy presents particularly difficult obstacles. At a time when most other people their age are still dependent on their parents for money, food, and shelter, pregnant teens are suddenly faced with adult responsibilities. They must consider the changes a baby will bring, including the ways it will affect their plans for school, a career, and relationships.

In 2016, the most recent year for which data is available, nearly 210,000 babies were born to women aged 15–19 years. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this number is a record low for U.S. teens in this age group, and a drop of 9 percent from 2015. The CDC’s 2018 National Vital Statistics Report found that fewer teens reported sexual activity in 2017 than in the previous 10 years. However, teen birth rates in the U.S. are still higher than in most other developed countries. In 2013, the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECCAN) announced that Canada's teen pregnancy rate fell 20.3 percent between 2001 and 2010 (the most recent year for which information is available) for girls ages 15 to 19. A ten-year study conducted by the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality (CJHS) found that Canada had lower teen birth rates than Sweden, England/Wales, and the U.S. Why are teen pregnancy rates lower in Canada? Experts believe that Canadian young women are becoming better informed about sex education, and are also focused on education and career goals rather than having children at an early age.

A Pew Research Center analysis tied the declining teen birth rate to factors such as a declining economy, less sex, use of more effective birth control, and more information about pregnancy prevention. Researchers also discovered how culture impacts teen pregnancy. They found the MTV programs 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom caused a drop in teen births. In the hours after these shows aired, social media dialogue and Internet searches on birth control and teen pregnancy greatly increased. The programs, viewed by a reported 71 percent of teens, helped young people “better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenthood.”

Some communities have programs to discourage teen pregnancy. One such program is called “virtual infant parenting,” where teens care for a robotic doll that looks and acts like a real infant. Participants must feed, change diapers, and perform other simulated tasks. A 2016 study of Australian teen girls found such programs are not effective. Girls who cared for the dolls had a 17 percent chance of becoming pregnant during their teen years, while those outside the program had an 11 percent chance.

One of the reasons for the high rate of teen pregnancy is that many teens do not have enough information about sex, birth control, and how their reproductive systems function. Often they are afraid or embarrassed to ask questions. The first step in preventing unwanted pregnancies is to understand how your body works.

Puberty

When you reach the age of eleven or twelve, your body starts to change. You may feel some of these changes, but you might not be able to see their effects right away. This time of physical and emotional change is called puberty.

During puberty your glands begin to produce hormones—chemicals that make you look and feel different. Hormones are responsible for most of the physical and emotional changes typical of puberty For boys, hormones lead to the production of sperm, the deepening of the voice, and the growth of facial hair. For girls, breast development and the beginning of menstruation (the monthly period) are some of the changes that occur during puberty.

The Male Reproductive System

Male Reproductive System
Male Reproductive System
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The male body produces sperm, which swim in a thick, cloudy white liquid. This combination of liquid and sperm is called semen. When a man becomes aroused, his penis fills with blood and becomes erect (hard and straight). If he is fully stimulated, he has an orgasm and ejaculates (releases) semen. The average ejaculation contains 500 million sperm—only one of which is needed to make a woman pregnant.

Semen usually leaves the male body during ejaculation, but it is possible for some to leak out of the erect penis even without an orgasm. Pregnancy can occur without intercourse if semen comes near the vaginal area and sperm manage to enter the vagina and swim up into the uterus. While this is unlikely, it is possible. Because the penis releases a small amount of sperm-containing pre-ejaculatory fluid before orgasm, a woman can also become pregnant even if the penis is pulled out of the vagina before climax. That’s why if you decide to have sex, it is important to use some form of birth control, preferably a condom in conjunction with another form, from the first moment of sexual contact.

The condom is a rubber sheath that covers the penis and creates a barrier between it and the vagina. Condoms prevent semen from leaking into the vagina. They protect against pregnancy as well as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). Other than abstinence (choosing not to have sex), condoms, when used properly, offer the best protection against pregnancy and disease of all forms of birth control. While the birth control pill offers better protection against pregnancy, it does nothing to prevent STD infection.

Traditionally, condoms have been made from latex. But you may have seen newer polyurethane condoms too. Some people claim that polyurethane condoms are more sensitive than latex ones because they are thinner in texture. But studies show that polyurethane condoms are not as effective in protecting against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Polyurethane condoms are more likely to slip off the penis during withdrawal and also to break. The bottom line is, unless you are among the small number of people allergic to latex, latex condoms are a far safer option.

The Female Reproductive System

Female Reproductive System
Female Reproductive System
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A woman is born with a certain number of ova, or eggs. These are stored in her two ovaries. During puberty the menstrual cycle begins, and these eggs begin to mature. Each month, one egg is released from the ovary. This process is called ovulation. The egg then travels through one of the two fallopian tubes located on either side of the uterus. If the egg is not met by a sperm, the unfertilized egg will break down. Each month, the lining of the uterus thickens in preparation for carrying a baby. If the egg is not fertilized, the lining is pushed out of the body along with the unfertilized egg. This is called menstruation.

However, if sperm should enter the woman’s body while the egg is in the fallopian tube, a single sperm can fertilize the egg. This is known as the moment of conception. The fertilized egg then drops into the uterus. If it successfully implants itself in the wall of the uterus, the egg will begin to grow and develop. The woman is now pregnant. If all goes well during pregnancy, a baby will be born about nine months later.