For the first time since 1991, teen pregnancy is on the rise in the United States. In the years between 1991 and 2005 teen pregnancies had been steadily declining. Between 2005 and 2006, however, teen pregnancy increased by 4%. Of additional concern are the following facts:

  • Thirty-one percent of young women get pregnant at least once before they turn 20.
  • One in three sexually active adolescents will graduate from high school with a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
  • Chlamydia and gonorrhea are STDs that can cause sterility (the inability to have babies).
  • Infant mortality is high among mothers under age 20. Being a teen parent is risky for the mother and her baby.

Now for the good news. A public opinion poll released on March 18, 2009 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy showed that when it comes to teens’ decisions about sex, parents are more influential than they think. In the poll, teens surveyed said that their parents influenced their decisions about sex much more then their friends, the media, teachers, and sex educators! Parents, you have a golden opportunity to influence your teen’s life when it comes to their behaviors around sex. So arm yourself with the information you need and take action!

Influencers of Teen’s Decisions around Sex
Parents Friends The Media Teachers/Sex Educators
31% 18% 7% 3%

What are the current trends in teen sex?

  • Oral sex: Among teens ages 15 to 19 who have not had sexual intercourse, almost one in four report having ever engaged in oral sex with an opposite sex partner (24 percent of male and 22 percent of females), based on analyses of the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth. Many teens consider oral sex to be safe and more socially acceptable than vaginal sex and some teens define oral sex as abstinent behavior and/or choose oral sex as a way to avoid vaginal sex. However, engaging in oral sex is associated with sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. Despite this danger, few teens use a barrier method to protect themselves against health risks associated with oral sex, and health clinics generally have given minimal attention to oral sex, compared with vaginal sex.
  • Friends with benefits: Friends with benefits is a popular term to describe friends or acquaintances who “hook up”. Hooking up is a convenient way to describe all varieties of sexual encounters, “One night stands” have always taken place, but this is a little different. Friends with benefits is a frightening concept for a lot of adults to comprehend. It is implied that hooking up is any form of sexual contact that could range from kissing to intercourse, without an emotional commitment. Among the sexual activities included is oral sex, which has increased in popularity among young teenagers.
  • Sexting: Sexting, or texting sexual messages or photos, is the latest teenage sex trend. According to a 2008 survey by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and, 20% of teens have electronically sent, or posted online, nude or semi-nude images of themselves. What teens and young adults are doing electronically seems to have an effect on what they do in real life: Nearly one-quarter of teens (22%) admit that technology makes them personally more forward and aggressive. More than one-third of teens (38%) say exchanging sexy content makes dating or hooking up with others more likely and nearly one-third of teens (29%) believe those exchanging sexy content are “expected” to date or hook up.

Why is teen pregnancy on the rise?

There is no singular reason why we’re experiencing a rise in teen pregnancy; there are a number of contributing factors, including:

  • Less supervision by adults: Since most parents are required to work to keep a roof over their families’ heads, young adults are being less supervised than ever.
  • Societal acceptance: You can barely pass a newsstand without reading about the latest unmarried teen celebrity who has become pregnant.
  • Glamorization: Along with acceptance by young Hollywood (and others) comes the notion that being pregnant and a young mother is “cool”.
  • Low self-esteem: Teens who are depressed or feel lonely often look for love through intimate cotact and end up getting pregnant.

What do your teens need to know about sex to help them stay healthy?

Parents need to let their teens know that…

  • Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent pregnancy and avoid getting a sexually transmitted disease (STD). However adolescents are having sex. So advising them about safe sex, use of condoms, and contraceptive options is important. For information on contraceptive options, click here.
  • The use of alcohol and drugs gets in the way of good decisions. There is a reason why we discourage alcohol and drug use among teens—it impairs judgment and opens doors to activities that would be closed if a person is unimpaired. Help your teens learn to avoid any substance or activity that puts them at risk.
  • Sex has a powerful emotional basis—it is not all about disease and pregnancy. We often discuss the health and pregnancy risks of teen sex, but we need to help them understand that sex is an emotional issue as well.
  • Additionally, it is important for teenagers to know that sexually healthy people of any age:
    • Feel confident saying “No”
    • Think about what’s involved in a relationship and a sexual partnership before making any decisions about sex
    • Know what their own values are about sex
    • Feel good about their sexuality and themselves
    • Do not feel afraid, ashamed or guilty
    • Understand that emotions and relationships are as important as the physical acts
    • Know when, where, and why it is important to get medical advice
    • Are aware of ‘safe sex’ practices
    • Are comfortable with their values about birth control
    • Know that they don’t have to put up with abusive behavior
    • Know what the law says about when a person can legally have a sexual relationship.

How should I talk to my teen about sex?

Talking to teens about sex, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and pregnancy can be difficult for parents. Teens want to make their own decisions, but they are also influenced by their parents and their peers. Open communication between teens and parents is very important and helps teens to make healthy decisions. Studies show that young people whose parents talk to them about sex are less likely to engage in sexual activity. Here are some tips to help you talk to your teen about sex.

  • Most kids in the United States hear about sex and sexual intercourse by the time they are 8 years old. If your child is already a teen when you embark on your first conversation with them about sex, he/she will most likely already know about the biology of it. Be ready for them to roll their eyes and walk out of the room. Your objective is to raise a child who understands how to use their sexual energy in a healthy, respectful, ethical way. And that’s no easy task in a culture that’s telling them that “being sexy” is a way of getting attention and power.
  • Before you begin talking to your kids about sex, you should come to terms with how you feel about sexuality and sex. What you think and feel will have a strong influence on how you respond to your teenager’s behavior. Your own experiences as a child and an adult, what your parents said and did, your religious beliefs, your feelings, and your cultural background, all make a difference as to how you cope with this part of your teenager’s life.
  • It is important to teach your teen both how to say “no” to sex and how to engage in safe sex once the time comes. Because of the way sex is portrayed in the media, most teens assume that sex is a normal part of dating.
  • If your teen has already had sex then you might feel that it is too late to teach them to say no, but this is not the case at all. A lot of teenagers feel that once they have had sex with somebody they simply cannot then refuse. They need to understand that they should feel free to refuse sex for any reason at all if they feel uncomfortable. You should also take the opportunity to teach them that sex should be a very special experience and that this should apply not simply to their first sexual experience but should always be the case.
  • Given that fact that many teenagers today are engaging in sex, it is vitally important that you teach your teen about safe sex. Educate your teens about the consequences of unprotected sex (STDs and pregnancy) and teach them about the various different birth control options that are available for both girls and boys. Your teen’s provider can also be a great source of information and support for yourself and your teen. Encouraging your teen to talk with his/her provider can facilitate accurate information and support.

Education and teen advice about sex is the key to keeping your children safe and happy and this is one area of guidance which is best performed at home by a loving and caring parent.
For more on how to talk to your teens about sex, click here.

How can I help my teen avoid pregnancy?

Parents should take comfort in the fact that research shows there is much they can do to help their kids pass into adulthood pregnancy- free. Here is a review of recommended actions you can take to help your teen avoid pregnancy:

  • Be a good role model, first and foremost. Be clear about your own attitudes towards sex before you attempt to convey them to your teen. Do you think it is okay for kids under 18 to engage in sexual activity? Do you think abstinence is reasonable? Answering these types of questions yourself will help to clarify your own values and attitudes.
  • Don’t just have “THE TALK” about sex. Many parents are uncomfortable discussing sexual matters with their kids, so they avoid it altogether or present limited information on one occasion only. Parents need to have an ongoing dialogue with their kids about sex and sexuality. Don’t lecture; be open to questions (kids are inquisitive) and don’t be afraid to say you don’t have the answer to every question. Parents should speak to sons and daughters in age-appropriate terms from an early age on into early adulthood. For more on how to talk to your teens about sex, click here.
  • Supervise and monitor your children: It is important to establish rules, curfews and standards of expected behavior. Know what your kids are doing between the time they get home from school and when you arrive home from work. Get specific answers–find out where they are going when they go ‘hang-out’ with their friends.
  • Get to know your kids’ friends (and their families): Adolescents are more influenced by their peers than any other age group. Therefore, you may want to know they are spending time with kids and families who share similar values to yours.
  • Encourage group activities rather than one-on-one dating: Teens are much less likely to become pregnant if you discourage early, frequent, steady dating. Let your kids know when you will allow them to begin to date; tell them well in advance. Some parents may feel 16 is an appropriate age to begin dating; you may feel better about waiting until your son or daughter turns 18. Remember, you are the expert on your own child; only you can judge their level of maturity.
  • Insist your children date others in the same age group. It is unwise to allow a daughter to date a boy who is significantly older; the risk of teen pregnancy is greatly increased when girls are allowed to date “men”.
  • Demonstrate that you value education highly. Show your teens there are many life options other than pregnancy and parenthood.
  • Monitor screen time: Know what your kids are doing with electronic media. Internet use and texting should be closely monitored.
  • Involve other adult role models: Enlist the support of other adult role models (i.e., aunts and uncles, counselors, healthcare providers) that may influence your teen and encourage them to share their input on sexuality and safe sex practices.

Developing and nurturing a warm, caring and open relationship with your children may be the very best form of birth control you can provide! For more information, click here.


For a list of local resources including adolescent medical services, mental health counseling, substance abuse, violence, grief, suicide, and after-school programs for teens, click here.