A new study came out this week saying that 2 in 5 women don’t use birth control. The two most common reasons listed for not using birth control were not being sexual active, and believing they were unable to become pregnant. The study also mentioned that many women underestimate their ability to become pregnant. I believe our current lack of comprehensive sexual education is partially responsible for this situation. I also believe that sex education is not the only change needed. We need to stop being afraid of young adults having sex, and we need to stop thinking of it as a horrible tragedy when young adults have sex. We need to stop believing that it’s wrong to talk about sex with anyone, at any age. We need to start seeing our body’s sexual organs, cycles and activities as part of us.
Young adults, yes, teenagers, are having sex. Our culture’s refusal to acknowledge that has led to the situation we’re in now. Any sort of talk about teenage sex is deemed as “encouraging” or “promoting” teenage sex, and thus seen as a horrible thing. While parents and teachers and administrators and policy makers squawk back and forth at each other over how they shouldn’t talk about sex because we don’t want teens having sex, teens are having sex. They are having sex and not paying attention to the discussion others are having about whether their sexual activities are right or wrong. And it’s not just teenagers who are in this situation, but also unmarried adults. Even married adults sometimes falter when trying to talk about sexual activities- after being taught for so long that sex is bad, it’s hard to make a 180 turn and say sex is okay.
Our refusal to educate the public about sexual activity has put them at risk, and it’s time for us to stop worrying about whether we are encouraging sex or not, and start teaching teens (and everyone!) about how our bodies and reproduction work.
One result from the above study should be easily resolved with education. As previously stated, one of the most common reasons for not using birth control was a woman believing that she couldn’t get pregnant. This is surely due in part to our fear mongering over pregnancy. Many people believe they have an equal chance of getting pregnant every time they have sex. In reality, one’s chances of becoming pregnant are higher and lower at different parts of the ovulation cycle. If a person has sex when they are not near ovulation, and thus does not become pregnant, this can lead to a false belief that they are unable to become pregnant. While I do not support NFP for teenagers as a way to prevent pregnancy, I highly suggest we begin educating teenagers (male and female) about the ovulation cycle, and encourage young women to track their cycles. Tracking your cycle as a young adult can lead to better understanding of your body, and help you figure out when to have your chances of becoming pregnant when trying to avoid pregnancy or when trying to create a pregnancy. Tracking your cycle can also help you notice something out of the ordinary that requires a doctor’s attention.
The other man reason for not using birth control was a lack of sexual activity. While I see nothing wrong with this, I do believe that even people who are sexually inactive should be educated on condoms and hormonal contraceptives. Anyone who is currently sexually inactive could change their mind and become sexually active, and they should be prepared for that if/when it happens. Hormonal contraception is not easy to get quickly- one usually needs a doctor’s appointment, then to actually purchase the birth control at a pharmacy, and then wait for it to take effect. While we hope sexual activity is well thought out and planned for, often it actually happens in the heat of the moment. No one should have to be risk pregnancy or STIs because they weren’t educated on effective contraception since they weren’t yet sexually active. Education should always come before activity.
A person facing an unplanned pregnancy should not be judged for their situation or lack of education. We should not be asking the individual, “why didn’t you know better?” or “why didn’t you use birth control?” We should be asking the establishment, “why didn’t you provide proper education?” and “why did you limit access to contraceptives for this individual?” Our cultural fear and shame around sex has led to a situation where people rely on rumors whispered among friends, websites that aren’t always accurate, and even lies taught in schools practicing abstinence-only education. We need to stop hiding sexuality under the rug, and start talking about it openly and honestly.