Teens' Questions About Love, Sex, Pregnancy, and Birth Control

Q: How many teen girls get pregnant every year?

The United States has the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates of comparable countries.  In 2008, our teen birth rate (number of teen births per 1,000 teens) was two times higher than the United Kingdom’s, 10 times higher than Switzerland’s, and over three times higher than that of our neighbor, Canada.  However, the U.S. teen pregnancy rate, despite a 3% increase between 2005 and 2006, declined by 37% between 1991 and 2009.  Despite this impressive decline, it is still the case that one out of every three teen girls will become pregnant at least once before the age of 20.  Approximately 750,000 American teens get pregnant every single year resulting in approximately 400,000 teen births.

Q: When is it okay to have sex? How do I know when I’m ready?

When to have your first sexual experience is a personal decision that no one can make for you. Generally, you should be mature enough to fully understand and accept the possible consequences of sexual intercourse (pregnancy, STDs and their possible long-term complications, a change in your reputation or self-esteem, etc.). We can give you a few guidelines. Never have sex if you feel you are being pressured. On the flip side, never try to pressure anyone else into having sex. Never have sex just to keep your girlfriend or boyfriend. If his or her staying is contingent on your having sex, then you’re not getting the respect that you deserve – get out of the relationship yourself. Never have sex out of curiosity, boredom, or because your friends are doing it. These are very poor reasons to risk a pregnancy or a life-threatening illness. Don’t have sex if you can’t talk to your partner comfortably about sexual limits, birth control, and reducing STD risks. Most adults believe that young people should wait (at least) until after they graduate from high school to begin having sex. Some adults believe that sexual intercourse should be saved for marriage. Talk to your parents or another caring adult and find out how they feel. Love is a wonderful feeling. But, you don’t have to have sex to show your love for another person. Waiting is sometimes the most mature and loving choice you can make.

Q: How far is too far for me – or someone my age?

Again, this is a personal issue. Refer to the answer above. Also, examine your feelings. In general, if you feel uncomfortable about the idea of doing something, then that is probably too far for you. Think about what you are and are not willing to do within a relationship. These are your sexual limits. For example, I’m willing to kiss, hug, and hold hands, but I’m not willing to have my private areas touched in any way.” Make your sexual limits very clear to your partner. We know this isn’t always easy. Take advantage of a TV show or movie you’re watching to make your limits known. You might say: “I can’t believe that girl had sex on the first date. I could never do that! I love kissing and hugging, but that’s as far as I’d go.”

Q: Does my partner really love me? How do you know when you’re in love?

Sometimes it’s difficult to know the difference between love, lust, and infatuation. According to Nathaniel Branden in his book What Love Asks of Us, “Romantic love represents the integration of three factors: 1) a strong sense of affinity, a sense of being ‘soulmates’ 2) the presence of admiration 3) strong sexual attraction.” Lust simply refers to strong sexual attraction without affinity and admiration. Infatuation refers to a strong attraction to another arising from our focusing on one or two aspects of the other, not the whole person. For example, you might be infatuated with someone at school who is good looking and great at sports, but you really don’t know much else about him or her. Generally, healthy loving relationships share the following characteristics (brace yourself – it’s a long list): mutual respect, trust, honesty, commitment, faithfulness, being able to apologize and forgive, genuine care for the well-being and feelings of the other person, feeling safe and at ease with one another, being able to freely spend time away from each other, maintaining other friendships and not feeling guilty about them, being able to freely express your opinions and ideas, being able to say and accept the word “no”, being able to listen and empathize with the other person, making your own decisions, deciding together what to do as a couple, talking out problems, not feeling pressured to do something or act a certain way, a sense of balance (giving and taking equally), and acceptance of the other person for who he or she is (not for who you want them to be). If you have all of the above, then you just may be in love. Did you notice that having sex was not even mentioned?

Q: How do I say “no” without making my boy/girlfriend feel bad and without feeling pressured?

Be firm, honest, and empathetic. Don’t wait until you’ve gone too far – it will be harder to say no. Talk about your sexual limits before you start hugging and kissing. Try to say no privately, not in front of his/her friends. Give a reason for saying no – for example, “I’m just not ready for sex right now. It’s not that I don’t love you. I’d just like to get to know you better before we go any farther. I’m sorry, but my mind is made up.” Or you might say, “I don’t believe in sex before marriage. I care about you, and I don’t want to lose you, but I have to be clear about this. I hope you’ll respect my feelings.” Whatever you say, be sincere. Don’t say something that you don’t really mean or believe. If he or she continues to pressure you, then it’s time to be firm. Tell him/her that you will not be bullied into doing something you don’t want to do. Pressuring someone to do something they’re not ready for is disrespectful, uncaring, and selfish.

Q: Why do so many girls get pregnant when there is plenty of birth control information available?

Some teens who become pregnant actually do so on purpose. Their reasons? To feel loved by someone. To escape from what they perceive to be a bad home situation. To trap a guy into marriage. To put a mark on the world. To do something meaningful. To become an adult. Unfortunately, most teens who plan their pregnancies have very unrealistic expectations about pregnancy and parenting, and they regret their decision later. With regard to unplanned pregnancies, there are many reasons. Some younger girls may not understand how one becomes pregnant or how to avoid pregnancy, or may believe local myths about pregnancy prevention. Occasionally, a girl gets pregnant before she ever has a period (a girl ovulates or releases an egg 1-3 weeks before her first period, and thus pregnancy is possible). Some teens have sex while under the influence of drugs or alcohol, and either forget to use birth control or use it incorrectly. Some girls may be afraid to use a more reliable method of birth control because they are misinformed about risks. Others simply don’t like some of the side effects, like the possibility of weight gain. They don’t think about the possibiilty that they may gain 35 pounds if they get pregnant. Some feel that if they seek out contraception, they will be seen as “easy”. These girls believe that planning to have sex is bad, and that purchasing a birth control method is evidence of planning. Some simply think it can’t happen to them. Many teens who become pregnant have a history of sexual abuse, and feel like they have no control over what happens to them. Some are afraid that their parents will find out, or they fear their friends or relatives will see them walking into a family planning clinic. Finally, some girls use contraception, but do so incorrectly or inconsistently. And, unfortunately, a few become pregnant even when they use their birth control method perfectly. Remember, only abstinence works 100% of the time.

Q: Why do teens feel they have to have sex before marriage? Is it to feel cool?

Teens give a variety of reasons for having sex before marriage including curiosity, boredom, to keep a boyfriend or girlfiend, to prove their love, peer pressure, lack of self-control, or simply because it feels good. Some teens feel that premarital sex is okay as long as the people involved are in love. Other may not have a choice – they may be coerced or forced into having sex. Some individuals choose to remain single their entire lives, but still want to enjoy sexual relationships. Others may be gay or lesbian, and cannot ever legally marry in most states, including Pennsylvania. Choosing to have sex is a big step in any relationship – a decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Anyone, regardless of their age, should think carefully about possible consequences and effects on the relationship before taking the plunge. In essence, it depends on personal values and circumstances. What’s right for one person may not necessarily be right for another. If you personally feel that premarital sex is wrong, then you should pay attention to those feelings, and stick to your guns. When you go against your own personal values, you cheat yourself – your self-esteem drops, and you end up feeling guilty and anxious. Live by your own values, but be tolerant of the values of others. Everyone is unique with a very personal set of feelings, experiences, thoughts, and ideas. It’s impossible to entirely understand someone else’s perspective without being able to step into their shoes and actually live their life.

Q: Where can I find out about birth control?

The best place to go when you want any information about sex is your parents. They love and care about you, and they have your best interests at heart. They can provide you with values as well as facts. However, if you just want the basic facts about birth control, visit Family Planning…Plus or another reproductive health care provider. Medical professionals who specialize in reproductive health can provide you with the latest information possible.

Q: How can I ask my parents about sex – or tell them I’m ready to have sex – without them having a heart attack?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Look for talkable moments and take advantage of them. Discuss movies, TV shows, or song lyrics that have sexual themes with your parents. Sometimes it’s a lot easier to talk about sexual issues in general than it is to talk about your own personal sexuality. In this way, you can discover your parents’ values and feelings about sex. This may help you predict their reaction to a more personal conversation.
  • Try the direct approach – simply ask. But be ready for a strong response if your question is about you and your behavior. Let your parents express their feelings first before continuing the conversation. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Your parents want the very best for you, and when they consider the possibility that you may be having sex, they imagine the worst (someone hurting you, an unintended pregnancy interfering with your future, sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS).
  • If you’re nervous about your topic, you may want to initiate a conversation in the car (when it’s just you and your parent). That way, your parent has to listen, and you don’t have to make eye contact.
  • Before you approach your parent, decide what you want to say and how you’ll say it. You may want to write ever\ything down and practice in front of a mirror or close friend. Pick a good time and place for your discussion. Telling your parents that you just started to have sex right after they’ve had an argument is not a good idea. Make sure that your parents have time to talk, are relaxed, and are feeling good about you. Your setting should be private and free from interruptions.
  • Treat your parents the way you would like to be treated. If you want to be listened to with respect and without interruption, be sure to show the same courtesy to them.
  • When they’re talking, use active listening skills such as giving them your full attention, maintaining eye contact, asking for clarification, reflecting their feelings, and summing up their basic ideas before responding to what they’ve said. Try not to interrupt.
  • Avoid behaviors that tend to block communication including threats, name-calling, judgments, labels, ridicule, and sarcasm.
  • If you really fear baring your soul, try the “my friend has this problem” approach or write your parent a letter.

Q: If I have sex but don’t use any birth control, what are my chances of getting pregnant / getting my girlfriend pregnant?

If you have unprotected sex just once, your risk of pregnancy is quite low.  However, you can reduce your risk even further by taking Plan B (the morning after pill) within 72 hours of the unprotected sex.  Each time you have unprotected sex, your risk of pregnancy increases.  If you continue to have unprotected sex regularly over the course of one year, your chance of pregnancy jumps to 85%. Nine out of 10 sexually active couples who do not use birth control will become pregnant within a year.  That’s why it’s so important to use birth control if you do decide to have sex.

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