According to the most recent statistical data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, rates of teenage pregnancy in the U.S. are at an historic low. Still, more than 300,000 babies are born each year to young women, 15-19 years of age. Of course, these are live births; calculating pregnancy termination rates for this age group is difficult, but could provide additional data to round out our understanding of teenage pregnancy rates. Here are some interesting social factors which may be contributing to lower teen pregnancy rates.
Reality and Television Programming
Cable television is chock full of shows depicting – even glamorizing – teen pregnancy. While many critics believe this leads to greater promiscuity and acceptance of pregnancy among teens, the declining statistics would indicate otherwise. In these shows, viewers get to see the struggles teen mothers are facing, from abandonment by family and the father of their child, to the demands of caring for a baby while trying to finish high school. Their experiences are highly varied, giving broad perspectives on teen pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing.
Awareness of Sexually Transmitted Diseases
The prevalence of a variety of sexually transmitted diseases has raised awareness about the physical risks of unprotected sexual intercourse as well as the risk of unplanned pregnancy. When NBA star Magic Johnson publicly announced his HIV infection in the early 90’s, it provided the opportunity for many young people to be profoundly connected to the disease because it affected one of their sports heroes. Recent medical discoveries related to HPV and vaccines have also created the opportunity for teachers and parents to talk to teens about sexually transmitted diseases and protection, which also provides protection against unplanned teenage pregnancy.
Changing Attitudes about Abstinence
The sexual permissiveness and freedom of previous generations has given way to a re-emergence of conventional thoughts on abstinence. This is partially due to the presence of life-threatening sexually transmitted diseases, but perhaps more than that, teens are rethinking their opinions about abstinence. Perhaps parents are playing a role in these trends. Certainly, there are some positive teen role models who downplay the need for physical intimacy at a tender age. The importance of having that influence – within their peer group – is integral to consideration and acceptance of what might be described as more traditional values.
Availability of Condoms
Teens have easier-than-ever access to condoms: from clinics, schools and even their parents. Attitudes about condoms are both good and bad; it’s difficult to tell whether condom use is truly increasing. The traditional criticisms remain – couples complain about lack of sensation (for both partners) as well as reduced spontaneity when having to put on a condom prior to intercourse.
Overall, the statistics look promising for reducing what the CDC cause the number one preventable public health issue. Teenage pregnancy will never be entirely eliminated, but education, awareness and positive role models will continue to play a significant role in seeing teen pregnancy rates continue to fall.