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The Answer Blog

Posts Tagged ‘teen pregnancy prevention’

Pregnancy Prevention Starts With Pregnancy Education

May 1, 2014

I think most people would be astounded by the number of questions I answer every week regarding pregnancy on the Forums at Sexetc.org or on the Sex, Etc. Tumblr page. If I had to guess, I’d bet that 90 percent of the questions have to do with pregnancy and whether or not the person asking the question or his partner is pregnant based on the detailed story they lay out for me.

Of these many questions asked about whether or not someone is pregnant, the vast majority of the situations described involve no risk for pregnancy. And, about half of the time when I tell the teen asking that there was low or no risk for pregnancy, they don’t believe me at first.

Easy to Dismiss

It would be easy  to dismiss a teenager’s anxiety and attribute it to hormones or “just being dramatic.” Some people would probably want to moralize and say, “Well, if teens can’t use birth control or condoms or “control themselves,” they deserve to get pregnant or contribute to a pregnancy.” But I’ve learned that teens’ anxiety about pregnancy isn’t about not using condoms, not using birth control or perhaps even not practicing abstinence; it’s that these young people literally do not understand how pregnancy happens, which means they can’t understand how to prevent it.

And that is not their fault.

How Pregnancy Happens

The teens who ask about whether they or their partners are pregnant usually describe a situation like kissing a partner who ejaculates in his jeans and wondering if this could cause a pregnancy. Or she’s on hormonal birth control and they used a condom when they engaged in oral sex, but maybe some semen got on his or her hand and they want to know if she could be pregnant. You would be surprised how many people think that sperm can live on shower walls, in sinks, on toilet seats or toilet paper or that sperm can get through layers of clothing.

Again, the fact that teens are asking these questions and want to know if they could be pregnant or could cause a pregnancy in these situations is not their fault. It’s ours, because obviously we need to do a better job of educating young people on some of the basics related to pregnancy and reproduction.

Pregnancy Education Is Pregnancy Prevention

A lot of times people hear pregnancy prevention, and they think of the methods by which to prevent pregnancy from happening: using a condom, practicing abstinence or using hormonal birth control. But I would argue that pregnancy prevention starts with something much more basic: teaching young people how a pregnancy happens. When we talk about pregnancy and reproduction with our children or our students, we should be thinking, are we doing it early and often? Are we doing it in a way that is age-appropriate and makes sense to them developmentally? And are we presenting ourselves as trusted resources so that they feel comfortable asking questions about reproduction and how it happens?

Pregnancy prevention and education too often get caught up in a debate about whether or not teens should be having sex, when really it starts with the fundamental belief that young people have a right to understand their bodies and how they work. It’s our job to arm them with the knowledge necessary for them to make healthy and informed decisions.

We owe it to them.

—Kaitlyn Wojtowicz, M.A., Coordinator of Education and Communications

Kudos to Carrera and His “Top Tier” Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program

October 18, 2009

I recently went to New York City to celebrate an old friend and the successful adolescent pregnancy program that he created and has faithfully administered for 25 years. I joined about 150 people at the Harvard Club in to applaud Dr. Michael Carrera and celebrate his outstanding  Children’s Aid Society Carrera Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, which he developed at The Children’s Aid Society in New York City. The Program’s goal is to help young people growing up in poverty improve their life’s chances and avoid the rough seas of teen pregnancy.

The Carrera Program has nine sites in Manhattan and replications in Georgia, Washington, D.C., Maryland, Michigan, and Ohio. Recently, it was  designated a “Top Tier Youth Program” by The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy’s Top Tier Evidence Initiative initiated by Congress.

This designation is very meaningful. The Carrera Program is only one of two national programs to receive it. As a result, it stands to receive a sizable infusion of federal funds set aside to help communities lower their stubbornly high rates of adolescent pregnancy. The Carrera Program has a seven-year plan to quadruple the number of young people it serves every year. Presently 3,000 youth are enrolled in the Program. Replications in local, community-based organizations that will accept the entire program’s concept and hands-on supervision from Dr. Carrera are presently planned in New Jersey and Connecticut with others across the nation to follow.

Dr. Carrera always refers to his work as “a long-term, above-the-waist approach that is guided by the principle that youth are ‘at promise’ not at risk.’”

The program works with boys and girls beginning at the age of 11, six days a week, 50 weeks a year, and follows them through high school and beyond. It helps them avoid too-early pregnancy by offering them after-school, weekend, and summer activities based on seven fundamental components: general education; employment and the opportunity to open a bank account; lifetime sports, including golf, tennis, swimming, squash, and bowling; comprehensive, no-cost medical and dental services; mental health services; self expression, including dance, drama, music, and writing; and family life and sex education! (He believes that when young people can see little hope for themselves in the future, sex education cannot do the job alone.)

Until its recent designation as “Top Tier” that will make it eligible for federal funding, Dr. Carrera has raised only private money from foundations and individuals to support his program. Thousands of young people and their families have participated in the program during its 25 years of existence. It costs less than $10 a day per student and reduces pregnancies by 50 percent in the communities served.

About 70 percent of program participants enter college and have found employment in education, law, medicine, media, science, engineering, and social work. As the program expands to serve more students, Dr. Carrera believes the costs will further decrease.

Guests at the 25th anniversary celebration received a booklet that detailed the high rates (and high costs) of unplanned teen pregnancy: “One hundred teens get pregnant every hour of every day in America. Fifty adolescents give birth and twenty-five adolescents have a pregnancy termination every hour of every day. The taxpayer cost of teen pregnancies, including public assistance, housing, food stamps, health care and other factors, is nearly seven billion dollars annually.”

Recently, for one brief evening, Dr. Carrera set aside his passion and let he and his accomplishments be celebrated. The crowd applauded and cheered for several hours. The speakers of the evening were numerous and included Jane Fonda, actress, author, and founder of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, which has adopted his approach. When it was Dr. Carrera’s turn to speak, he characteristically thanked everybody else for his Program’s accomplishments.

I first encountered Michael Carrera, the original energizer bunny, when he was teaching sex education to his daughter’s class at a private co-educational school, the Lenox School, in New York City.  His energy was unbelievable as was his comfort in talking about sex and answering any question that any student tossed at him.

Years went by but I kept following his accomplishments. He became chair of the Board of SIECUS, the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, the major national organization committed to promoting sexual health in the nation, and wrote a coffee-table-sized book called Sex: The Facts, the Acts and the Feelings. He was a popular speaker at sex education conferences, and I always gravitated to his sessions hoping to pick up ideas for improving my teaching. After noticing me in the audience for perhaps the third, or possibly fourth time, he turned to me and said somewhat sharply, “You’ve heard everything I have to say. Now go and do something to help young people.”

Over the past 25 years, Dr. Carrera has certainly done just that.