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Ages & Stages

To teach teenagers about birth control might seem inconsistent with promoting abstinence. By doing so, aren’t parents waving the white flag? Resigning themselves to the idea that teenagers are going to have sex, and nothing adults say or do is going to change that? No, they’re being pragmatic. Nine in ten adolescents have had intercourse by the time they turn twenty.

The consequences of unprotected sex are too devastating and affect too many lives for parents not to inform boys and girls about methods of birth control other than continuous abstinence. School sex-education programs cannot be depended on to present this information. In 1996, Congress passed a federal-entitlement program that rewards states for deliberately omitting any mention of contraception or STD prevention in school sex-ed classes. In order to receive their share of $250 million in federal money, states must implement a curriculum teaching abstinence until marriage “as its exclusive purpose.”

Studies show that fewer than one in ten U.S. students receive a comprehensive sex education that promotes abstinence but also addresses the use of contraception for sexually active young men and women. Critics of such programs typically assert that if youngsters learn about birth control, they’ll soon want to put this knowledge to practical use.

Studies indicate otherwise. The division of HIV/AIDS prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states: “Research has clearly shown that the most effective programs are comprehensive ones that include a focus on delaying sexual behavior and provide information on how sexually active young people can protect themselves.” Our best hope that youngsters will choose to delay sexual activity lies with education, because there is no stronger case for abstinence than to candidly discuss the risks of having sex too early.

In the Netherlands, as in other European countries, sex education routinely incorporates such topics. Yet the adolescent birth rate there is thirteen times lower than in the United States; the abortion rate, seven times lower. In addition, the average Netherlands teen waits more than a year longer than his or her American counterpart before becoming sexually active.

Teenagers’ “Mythconceptions” about Sex

For all their seeming sophistication, adolescents can harbor some astoundingly inaccurate ideas about sex. These fallacies then get passed along to their fellow teens. Your job as your child’s primary sex educator is not just to teach him about sex, it’s to “unteach” all the misinformation he’s heard that may get him into trouble.

What Your Teenager May Believe: A girl can’t get pregnant the first time she has sexual intercourse.

The Facts: Oh yes she can! In fact, pregnancy can occur even before a girl’s first menstruation.

What Your Teenager May Believe: A girl can’t get pregnant during her menstrual period.

The Facts: Wrong again. No time of the month is completely safe for unprotected vaginal intercourse, although there are approximately seven or eight days when a girl is most likely to become pregnant: five days prior to ovulation, the day of ovulation and one or two days afterward.

What Your Teenager May Believe: One way to avoid pregnancy without using contraception is for the boy to withdraw his penis from the vagina before he ejaculates. The medical term for this maneuver is coitus interruptus (pronounced coe-iy-tus in-ter-rupt-us).

The Facts: Not necessarily. Prior to orgasm, the penis leaks drops of semen containing thousands of sperm. It takes only one to wiggle up the uterus and into the fallopian tube to fertilize the ovum.

What Your Teenager May Believe: Oral sex (mouth-to-genital contact) “doesn’t count” as sex.

The Facts: That was the response of six in ten college students polled by the Kinsey Institute in 1991. At the time, the study drew little attention. Other results of the Kinsey report are equally disturbing: 85 percent of the college men and women said that they did not consider hand-genital stimulation to be sex, and, somewhat remarkably, 20 percent did not regard anal intercourse as sex. Why, then, should their attitudes toward intercourse be any different?

For the record, “sex” is any intimate physical act between two people, not solely penis-vagina intercourse. That most definitely includes oral sex, manual sex and anal sex.

What Your Teenager May Believe: All teenagers are having sex nowadays.

The Facts: It may seem that way, especially if you’re prone to believing what you see on TV, but the truth is that slightly more than half of all high-school students are still virgins when they graduate.

Methods of Birth Control

  • Abstinence: the starting point of any discussion about birth control. Refraining from sexual intercourse is the surest way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
  • “Outercourse”: In the field of teenage sexuality, contact that does not involve intercourse is referred to tongue-in-cheek as “outercourse.” Dr. Donna Futterman, director of the adolescent AIDS program at New York’s Montefiore Medical Center, encourages parents to talk to their youngsters about these other forms of sexual expression. “Kids should know that they don’t need to have intercourse to be fulfilled,” she says. There are many safe ways to enjoy sexual pleasure without penis-vagina or penis-anus penetration. To date, there have been no reported cases of pregnancy through kissing, hugging or caressing.

Methods of Birth Control for Sexually Active Teens

Many mothers and fathers will not feel comfortable having sexually blunt conversations or discussing contraception with their teen. If you’re nodding your head in recognition, call your youngster’s pediatrician. He or she regularly counsels young patients about sexual behavior, birth-control methods and techniques for preventing STDs. Many times, your son’s or daughter’s doctor can provide or prescribe a suitable form of contraception right there in the office, or refer an adolescent to an appropriate facility in your community.


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Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics)
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.