By Alyssa Ryan
As of 2015, 41.2 percent of high school students across the nation had ever had sexual intercourse. Of those students, only about 56 percent used a condom, and only about 26 percent used some form of birth control. Approximately 9 percent of the sexually active students reported using both a condom and a form of birth control the last time they had sex.
Are you seeing a problem yet? This means a majority of the nation’s sexually active teens are at risk of becoming a teen parent. The national teen pregnancy rate has, thankfully, been on the decline for the last few decades, which is great for a lot of reasons.
Fewer teen pregnancies mean better reproductive health and socioeconomic outcomes for teens as far as receiving their high school diploma, going to college, or getting a job. However, just because teen pregnancy rates have been falling, doesn’t mean teen pregnancy has disappeared altogether. In Western New York, teen pregnancy still runs rampant.
In 2015, 6.3 percent of the births across the eight counties of Western New York were to teenagers between the ages of 15 and 19. That’s the second highest region in New York State, just behind the Mohawk Valley and Central New York regions, both with 6.8 percent.
Using effective, evidence-based techniques, such as sex education and access to birth control, can slow teen pregnancy rates and prevent teen pregnancies from happening in the first place. Sex education has recently been in the news in both Erie and Niagara counties for the immense lack of comprehensive knowledge and understanding of even the most basic reproductive health among their students.
The current, mostly abstinence-based, sex ed is not stopping teens from getting down and dirty. Abstinence should be included, but shouldn’t be the only topic covered in sexual education. High school students should understand their own anatomy as well as birth control options, and also be given guidance on how and where to obtain contraceptive methods.
Contraceptive methods including, but not limited to, condoms, birth control pills, and intrauterine devices (IUDs) have many benefits beyond preventing unintended pregnancy, such as avoiding STIs, reproductive cancers and even more noticeable things like acne.
For teens who are sexually active or planning to become sexually active in the near future, contraceptive methods are essential to their health, their wellness and their futures.
Making birth control methods more accessible to teens in Western New York will positively impact both the teens themselves and their local communities. Teenagers need better sex education and access to birth control, so they should have it. Period.
Alyssa Ryan graduated from Niagara University in 2017 and is pursuing a Master of Public Health in Maternal and Child Health from George Washington University.