As much as we’d love to roll back the clock to prevent our children from becoming adults, the teenage years arrive along with the responsibility of choosing sex or abstinence.
At Eugene Pediatric Associates, we commonly meet with teens and their parents to discuss this important topic.
Statistics tell us that some, but not all boys and girls, are having sex before the age of 20.
The latest data on the sexual activity of U.S. teenagers, published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, tells us:
- 19 percent of 15-year-old girls have had sex; 32 percent of 16-year-olds; and 74 percent of 20-year-olds.
- For boys, the numbers are similar: 22 percent of 15-year-old boys have started to have sex, 35 percent of 16-year-olds, and 74 percent of 20-year-olds.
- Contraception is used less often by younger teens and is rarely used the first time.
- Older teens use contraception at first sexual intercourse more often (82 percent of 16-year-olds), but significant number of teens still have unprotected sex.
- The pregnancy rate among sexually active teens is 9 percent per year for 15-year-olds, increasing to 19 percent per year for 19-year-olds.
- Roughly twice as many teen pregnancies end in live births as end in abortion in teens 16 and older.
This data is gripping to me both as a pediatrician and as a mother of young teenagers. Everyone, of course, has his or her own take on this matter, and I’m deeply respectful of people’s personal and religious beliefs regarding sex and birth control.
As a doctor and mother, this is what I know:
- My husband and I talk about abstinence with our kids as the only truly perfect way of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). We tell our kids all the reasons why we think it’s great to wait to have sex.
- It’s not true that “everyone is having sex in high school” (to quote one of my patients from a recent conversation). The AAP statistics prove it. I can use this data to help the kids I see understand that a large number of teens are choosing to wait.
- I recognize that my own kids and many of the kids I see will choose not to follow my abstinence advice. That doesn’t make them bad kids.
- It breaks my heart to see tears streaming down the faces of teens and parents who come to see me after the teen has started having sex and the parents have come to realize it. At this crucial juncture, we as parents need to set aside our judgment and disappointment to prevent pushing our kids away at a time when they really need us.
- The risk of pregnancy is high among sexually active teens; therefore, I am a strong proponent of birth control, including condoms to help prevent STIs. Initiating sex is one thing, but making a baby really changes the direction of a teenager’s lifeI would rather kids have access to birth control than risk contracting a potentially life-altering STI, or getting pregnant before they are ready.
We invite your feedback, and we encourage you to talk to your children about your own beliefs. If you need help talking to your kids about sex, abstinence or related topics, please contact us.