A new study from the Centers for Disease Control concludes that a large number of teenage girls don’t know their chances of getting pregnant. In a survey of thousands of teenage mothers who had unintended pregnancies, one-third of the teenagers said they did not use birth control because they did not think they could get pregnant. While the CDC did not explore the specific reasons for the misconception, past studies have shown that teens thought they couldn’t get pregnant the first time they had sex, didn’t think they could get pregnant at that time of the month or thought they were sterile, according to the Associated Press.
About half of the 5,000 mothers surveyed said they were not using any form of birth control. Officials told the AP that the survey’s results highlight a lack of knowledge that puts teens at risk:
“This report underscores how much misperception, ambivalence and magical thinking put teens at risk for unintended pregnancy,” said Bill Albert, a spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Other studies have asked teens about their contraception use and beliefs about pregnancy. But the CDC report released Thursday is the first to focus on teens who didn’t want to get pregnant but did. [...]
“I think what surprised us was the extent that they were not using contraception,” said Lorrie Gavin, a CDC senior scientist who co-authored the report.
Of the teen moms who said they were using contraception, almost 20 percent said they used the pill or a birth control patch, and 24 percent said they used condoms. CDC officials said they think the teenagers failed to use contraception correctly or consistently. For most, it was not an issue of access; only 13 percent said they did not use birth control because they had trouble accessing it.
Additionally, about a quarter of teens surveyed said they did not use contraception because their partner did not want them to. In response, Albert suggested that sex education needs to be expanded beyond information about anatomy and birth control to include advice on how to deal with a situation in which a girl is pressured to do something she doesn’t want to.
Albert told the AP that the findings are sobering, but pointed out that teen birth rates hit the lowest point in 70 years. Instead of leading people to the conclusion that teenagers can’t figure out birth control, he said it shows that “[m]ost of them are figuring it out.”
Earlier this month, a coalition of health and education groups released new non-binding guidelines about what should be included in sex education classes so that schools would have minimum standards to follow. They recommended that curricula be more comprehensive and start as early as second grade, and that by the time students leave eighth grade, they should be able to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence, condoms, and birth control bills. Under the Obama administration, federal funding has shifted from abstinence education to teen pregnancy prevention programs.