Ultimate Guide to Abstinence For US Teens

During the past 20 years, the rate of teen girls having children has dropped by about 40%, according to the Center for Disease Control & Prevention. Yet each year in the United States alone, more than 400,000 teen girls give birth. “The U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any industrial country in the world,” states the University of California. Having a baby is very difficult for teens mentally, physically and financially, as well as for their families. The good news is that there is a 100% effective way to keep from getting pregnant and it’s called “abstinence.” Abstinence means to refrain from having sex, and it also prevents contracting an STD (sexually transmitted disease). There are many places with resources available today for teens who are thinking about becoming sexually active such as schools, community-based agencies, clinics, and universities. Planned Parenthood is an organization offering reproductive health care and counseling on health, sex and family planning. The services are available to men, women and teens.

If a teenager is sexually active and becomes pregnant, she will go through many physical and psychological changes. These changes can include: possible frequent mood swings, fuller and sore breasts, weight gain of typically 15 to 35 pounds, fatigue, nausea, dizziness, vomiting, headaches, frequent urination, increase in vaginal discharge, food cravings, increase in perspiration, possible lower back pain, increase in breast fluid leakage, possible stretch marks and eventually difficulty sitting or positioning yourself for a long period of time. A very positive pregnancy experience is feeling the movement of the baby inside you, which typically initially occurs during the second trimester. At the developmental stage of a teen, pregnant teens often have fears about the hospital environment, medical procedures, medical personnel and even “splitting open during childbirth.” Teen pregnancy increases the risk of complications for both the mother and the child. The increase in risk of complications is typically for the younger teens because their bodies are not physically fully developed yet, and the teens often have poor nutrition. These teens tend to suffer the worst pregnancy-related complications such as hypertension and severe anemia. Yet the babies of these teens often suffer the most. The babies can be born premature, suffer from a low birth weight and have trouble gaining weight, suffer from mental retardation or brain damage, or they can be stillborn (born dead). Childbirth itself can be extremely traumatizing for a teen. They can become “immobilized” by postpartum depression. Motherhood can be completely overwhelming for them. “Teens report a fear of dying with hope for survival following childbirth,” according to Dr. Cheryl Anderson. Rarely are teenagers ever prepared to be a mother. Dr. Anderson states that when a teen mom suffers mood disorders due to childbirth events and the reality of being a mother, their children can suffer “long-term disturbances” to their emotional, cognitive and behavioral developments.

Initially becoming a mom can be overwhelming for a teen or any woman, but motherhood is also filled with challenges and responsibilities for eternity. Your child is always your child, no matter how old they may be. Children require a lot of time and attention from their parents, particularly when they are babies. Babies are totally, 100% dependent on other people for everything. Babies need to be fed, burped, have their diapers changed, bathed, and held. Financially babies can be very expensive. For example, in June of 2011 at Amazon.com, Pampers Swaddlers Dry Max Diapers (84 count) sell for $22.95. Enfamil Premium Infant Formula for Babies 0-12 months (23.4 ounce) costs $27.00. What about the sleepless nights and staying home more? “Baby Think It Over” is a wonderful, award-winning program conducted by the North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Children are given a computerized baby doll that cries like a real baby. The kids have a key attached to their arm that they can insert into the back of the doll to calm it when it cries. Crying spells can last from 5 to 30 minutes. The babies can be programmed to be normal or cranky. An internal computer in the doll records how well the “parents” respond to the baby’s needs. Kids fill out a diary of all of the days they spent caring for the baby, and a budget projecting the baby’s expenses for the first three months of life. The goal of the program is to prevent teen pregnancy. The kids get to experience what it is like to have to get up during the night to soothe a crying baby.

Having sex as a teen can lead not only to pregnancy but also to an STD (sexually transmitted disease). According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, STD’s are the most common infectious diseases in the United States today. More than 13 million men and women in the United States are affected each year by STD’s. STD’s are most prevalent among teens and young adults who are less than 25 years of age. Almost 2/3 of all STD’s occur in this age group. The most common of more than 20 identified STD’s is chlamydial infections, which affect an estimated 4 million new cases each year. Chlamydia often has no symptoms so you may not know that you have it. According to Planned Parenthood, possible female symptoms include: abdominal pain, abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding between menstrual periods, low grade fever, painful intercourse, pain or burning feeling while urinating, swelling inside the vagina or around the anus, the urge to urinate more than usual, vaginal bleeding after intercourse, and a yellowish discharge from the cervix with possibly a strong smell. Possible male symptoms include: pain or a burning feeling while urinating, pus or a watery or milky discharge from the penis, swollen or tender testicles and swelling around the anus. In both men and women the STD can cause the anus to itch and bleed, and it can result in a discharge and diarrhea. Chlamydia can easily be spread with or without symptoms. Condoms offer good protection against it. If you do find that you have it, the STD is easily treated with antibiotics. Another common STD is genital herpes, which affects an estimated 30 million Americans with approximately 500,000 new cases each year. There is no medical cure for herpes. Antiviral medication can help to shorten and prevent outbreaks, but the disease is for a lifetime. Herpes can affect the mouth (oral herpes) or the genitals (genital herpes), and it is easily spread with or without symptoms. There may be more symptoms associated with the very first episode including: swollen glands, aches and pains (flu-like feelings), headache, fever and chills. Other herpes symptoms include: blisters, burning feelings if the urine flows over sores, inability to urinate if severe swelling or sores block the urethra, itching, open sores and pain in the infected area.

Pregnancy and STD’s can be prevented. Abstinence is the best method of prevention, but if you really feel you need to become sexually active there are many other available prevention methods for various costs. Condoms for men are a latex or plastic covering placed over the penis. They are safe and effective for preventing pregnancy and most sexually transmitted infections. They are not effective regarding herpes. Condoms can be used for vaginal, anal or oral sex, and cost about $1.00 each. Sometimes they are available for free. Another birth control option is birth control pills. Typically birth control pills are safe, effective and convenient. You need a prescription from your doctor to get them. You take one pill each day, and they vary in cost from about $15 to $50 per month. Female condoms are also a birth control option costing about $4.00 each. A pouch is inserted into the vagina or anus, and it prevents pregnancy and most STI’s (sexually transmitted infections). Gather information on all the types of prevention methods (Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource) and decide which option is best for you. Knowledge is power. If you find that you are already pregnant, there are three options: have the baby and raise it yourself, continue with the pregnancy and put the baby up for adoption, or terminate the pregnancy with an abortion. There are psychological and physical ramifications for all three options. Experiencing childbirth can be very traumatic for a teen, but so can aborting or giving up your baby. Parents and educators have a huge impact on teens. The lines of communication between parents and teens need to be open. Talk to your teens about their lives and their feelings. Guide them toward making good decisions. There is a lot of peer pressure to have sex. Teens need self-confidence to be able to “just say no”

The following links are available resources concerning teen pregnancy and STD’s.