May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and here at the PTC, we support this effort as part of our mission to help you have the best health and the best outcomes in your life.
If you’re between the ages of 15 and 25, this is the decade of your life when you’ll make some of your most important decisions. The choices you make now can affect the course of the rest of your life. Everything from when and how you drive, whether you go to college, what kind of career you have, maybe even who you marry.
This is also the time of life when most people made decisions about sex. Are you going to become sexually active, with whom, and when? If you wait to have sex until marriage, that’s referred to as sexual abstinence.
You have the right and the ability to make your own choices in life. But to make good choices, that are healthy and will give you the best quality of life, you need all the facts. You need to see the situation from many different angles, and understand the consequences you could face from your decisions.
There are a lot of myths you may hear — or believe — about being sexually active. Let’s look at them one by one, and also get the facts about each one. This will equip you to make healthy choices and be successful, now and later on in your life.
Our decisions determine our destiny, so let’s make good ones.
MYTH 1: HAVING SEX IS NO BIG DEAL
FACT: Having sex is a life-changing decision because it comes with permanent, adult responsibilities and consequences. These include the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy.
Your Risk of STDs
One in four teenagers who are sexually active are infected with an STD. Half of all sexually active people will catch an STD by the age of 25. The scary part is, 80% of teens who have an STD don’t even notice any symptoms. So they can pass that infection to their sexual partners without even knowing it.
Most STD’s can be cured with antibiotics, but if you have an infection and don’t get treated, it can cause permanent damage to your body — including infertility (male and female), cancer, organ damage, pregnancy complications, or even death. You can find out more about STD’s at this blog post.
Research shows that teens who choose to be sexually active average 4 partners each. Here’s a chart of information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) about exposure and risk of sexually transmitted infections. When you have sex with a person, you are exposed to everyone they’ve had sex with in the past 10 years. So at your age, that means every partner they’ve had.
So let’s look at that average of 4 partners for a sexually-active teen. That means you’re exposed to everyone they’ve been with, and they’re exposed to everyone you’ve been with, plus all the people those partners were with before. That’s 15 people.
Now you may be 100% sure you’re not infected or passing anything. Can you trust those 15 other people — when most of them wouldn’t know if they’re infected or not?
Yeah, it’s a big deal.
Your Risk of Pregnancy
Unplanned pregnancy is the #1 reason that teenage girls drop out of high school. Dropping out of course affects your ability to go to college. It also impacts your job options and reduces your lifelong earning – even if you finish your education later.
In an unplanned pregnancy, you basically have 3 options. You could choose to parent. You could get an abortion. Or you could place the baby for adoption. None of these are easy choices, and they all have risks and consequences. We’ll look at other long-term consequences in myth #6, and you can find out more about the risks and consequences of abortion in this post.
If you think you might be pregnant right now, check out Am I Pregnant or Paranoid?
For guys, getting your partner pregnant also puts you in a position of responsibility. You don’t have any say over what she decides to do, but you’re going to have to live with that decision the rest of your life – just like she does.
So yeah, it’s a big deal.
MYTH 2: I’M SAFE BECAUSE I USE CONDOMS OR BIRTH CONTROL
FACT: Female birth control is not 100% effective at preventing pregnancy, and it doesn’t prevent STDs at all. Condoms aren’t 100% effective at preventing either one. This is stated by the manufacturers based on long-term tests.
So, how much risk is there?
Your Risk with Condoms
According to the CDC, condoms fail between 3% and 18% of the time, depending on whether they are used correctly and consistently. So if you use them absolutely perfectly, they still have 3% failure.
The CDC also found that less than half of people 16-19 years old used them correctly. So that’s going to be closer to the 18% failure. That means nearly 1 in 5 times, there’s a real risk of passing an STD or getting pregnant.
Your Risk with Other Birth Control
There are a lot of methods of female birth control. They all have different rates of failure and user error. The most common ones, like the birth control pill or patch, have about 9% failure rate if used correctly, but some methods fail up to 29% of the time. If you don’t take your pills correctly every single time, or have any medications that interfere, they may not protect you at all.
Pills, patches, and other prescription birth control give zero protection from STDs.
There’s no such thing as risk-free sex.
MYTH 3: EVERYBODY’S DOING IT
FACT: Actually they’re not. Research from the CDC shows that only about 30% of teens are sexually active. A lot more people your age talk about sex than actually have it.
TV, movies, and social media may make it look like “everybody” is having sex, but that doesn’t reflect the way most people live their lives.
You don’t have to have sex to be “normal,” or to fit in. All that talk is just for show.
MYTH 4: HAVING SEX WILL MAKE ME FEEL BETTER ABOUT MYSELF
FACT: Research shows that sexually-active teens are more likely to be depressed, have suicidal thoughts, and attempt suicide. One university study showed that 67% of people who had sex as a teen regretted it, and wished they’d waited.
We don’t know whether having sex makes kids depressed, or whether kids who are already having problems are more likely to take risks. But it’s clear that having sex isn’t making teenagers feel better about themselves in the long run.
MYTH 5: HAVING SEX WILL MAKE MY RELATIONSHIP BETTER.
FACT: 98% of teen relationships break up, whether they are sexually active or not. And of the 2% that get married, only half stay married for ten years or more. Breaking up after having sex with someone increases your risk of depression and emotional instability.
Being sexually active also increases your risk of being abused – 60% of teens experience verbal or emotional abuse, 18% experience physical violence, and about 20% are sexually abused in a dating relationship.
Long term studies on marriage also show that the more partners you have before marriage, the higher your risk of divorce. Just one sexual partner before marriage increases your divorce risk by 15%.
So the reality is that a good dating relationship will be good without sex. And a bad relationship will just get worse.
MYTH 6: THERE’S NO GOOD REASON TO DELAY HAVING SEX
FACT: Waiting to have sex gives you better quality of life now and in your future.
How your life is better right now
Let’s look back at the facts we already covered. When you wait to have sex:
- You don’t have to worry about STDs or pregnancy. Those risks drop to zero.
- You won’t face life-or-death decisions like whether to parent or have an abortion.
- You have better self-esteem, and are less likely to be depressed or contemplate suicide.
- When you date, your relationships will be just as good or better, and your breakups will be less messy and devastating.
- You have less risk of abuse and violence from dating partners.
Long-term national research shows that delaying sex is linked to having more control and more positive experiences in your life overall — no matter what background, home life, or other circumstances you’re in. Teens who delay having sex get better grades because they have less emotional stress. They develop more self-control, perseverance, and resistance to peer pressure in every area of life. They are 60% less likely to be expelled from school, 50% less likely to drop out of school, and twice as likely to graduate from college. And these benefits show up across every social, racial, and economic group.
How your life is better in the future
As we saw, unplanned pregnancy is the #1 reason teen girls drop out of high school. For those who choose to parent, only 4 out of 10 teen moms finish high school. Dropping out has long-term consequences for your education and your ability to get a good job. Census data shows that high-school graduates earn 35% more money over their entire lives than people who dropped out. Even if you get a GED later, it doesn’t completely close the gap.
Less than 2% of teen moms get a college degree before they turn 30. Data from the Bureau of Labor shows that on average, college graduates earn about 70% more than high school graduates. And a college degree lets you earn more than twice what you could make if you drop out of high school.
That doesn’t just affect teen moms themselves — it affects their babies, too. Teen moms are less likely to receive good prenatal care, and more likely to have premature babies with health problems. Over three-quarters of the children of teen moms live in poverty. They have less access to healthcare, and are more likely to be abused or neglected. Only 25% of teen moms receive child support from the baby’s father.
Which brings us to teen dads. Only 2% of teen dads wind up marrying the baby’s mother. But they are legally responsible for supporting that child for 18 years. Statistically, teen dads will never earn as much over their whole life as their peers do.
So you have very good reasons to wait, that affect you right now and for the rest of your life.
MYTH 7: I’M NOT A VIRGIN ANYMORE, SO IT DOESN’T MATTER NOW
FACT: You always matter! Your life and your future always matter. Bad decisions or bad experiences in the past can’t stop you from making good decisions now. You’re not locked into anything.
There are a lot of factors that influence your life that you have no control over: where you were born, who your parents are, whether your family or community has privilege, whether you’ve been hurt or treated unfairly in the past.
Maybe your first sexual experiences weren’t your choice at all. Up to 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are assaulted by the time they reach college age. This kind of trauma needs to be treated with respect and care, and it does affect you. You can reach out to your school counselor, you can call us at 205-979-0302 or text 205-677-8266 to speak to an advocate, or you can contact the local Crisis Center’s 24-hour rape response hotline at 205-323-7273. Even though this experience affects you, it absolutely does not have to determine your future.
No matter what has happened in your past, you can choose today to listen to the facts. You can choose from this point forward to have healthier relationships, to have a better quality of life now, and to have a better life in the future. Our decisions determine our destiny — by building it one step at a time.
THE SUCCESS SEQUENCE
Research by the Brookings Institute shows that there are three major decisions you can make right now that have the most impact on your long-term success in life.
- Graduate from high school.
- Get a full-time job.
- Wait to get married and have children until after you turn 21.
By doing these steps in this order, you will create a life of quality, positivity, and prosperity. People who follow this plan reduce their lifetime risk of poverty down to between 3% – 9%. Those are powerful choices! You have the power to make them today, and keep making them one step at a time.
If you or someone you know is facing an unplanned pregnancy or having symptoms of STD infection, you can make an appointment for free, confidential testing and counseling. Call us at 205-979-0302 or text 205-677-8266 to book a time that works for you. We’re here to support you with no judgment, just love.
- American College of Pediatrics
- Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nursing
- Brookings Institute
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention
- Cornerstone University
- The Endowment for Human Development
- Guttmacher Institute
- Institute for Family Studies
- Interagency Working Group on Youth Programs
- National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence
- National Council on Family Relations
- National Institute of Justice
- National Institutes of Health
- The National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health
- University of Virginia
- US Census Bureau
- US Department of Health and Human Services
- Verywell Family