More Teens Are Using the Morning-After Pill & That's Great News

I have absolutely no idea what determines the right age to start having sex. Is it 15? 18? 21? Marriage? I know I can’t say for sure, but judging by the reactions to the fact that use of the morning-after pill by girls aged 15-19 has increased, a lot of people clearly think it shouldn’t be a "teen" number.

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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention released a report yesterday that included statistics indicating more than one in five sexually active teen girls have used the morning-after pill. The pill contains the same female hormone in regular birth control pills but in a higher dose, and it reduces the chance of a sperm fertilizing an egg (hence, not an abortion by any definition) by almost 90 percent if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex.

Easy access is “to blame” for the increase in the pill’s use. The product was made available over the counter to teens 18 and older back in 2006; in 2013 age limits were lifted altogether. Respondents in the CDC report all said they had used condoms "at some point" and nearly half had taken birth control pills.

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These are not uneducated kids. They know about safe sex and how to prevent unwanted pregnancy. But as is the case with responsible adults, sometimes things aren’t perfect. These teens may be using the morning-after pill as backup. Maybe they are taking responsibility immediately after a lapse in judgment or an accident. Either way, I see these statistics as pointing to all good things.

The reactions, though, are not as decidedly positive. One commenter said they now know that there are one in five girls whom boys "want to hump, but don’t want to marry." Others warned (or wished) these girls will have fertility problems when they want to conceive, but offer absolutely zero connection between earlier use of contraception and adult conception rates. Almost every outraged opponent mentioned that girls should be taught to "close their legs." These kinds of outdated notions about teenage sex are sad. Having sex doesn’t make anyone unworthy of marriage, and the burden of shame is always unfairly placed on the girl.

Those upset by the increase in use of the morning-after pill also ignore the very real parallel with the dramatic drops in teenage pregnancy rate. The same CDC report also found that teen pregnancy has decreased to record lows across every age and ethnic group. Rates for 2015 were 53 percent less than in 1991. That's over 50 percent less than when some of these commenters were probably having teenage sex themselves. This statistic is an incredible relief for the U.S. given the estimated 10.9 billion dollars in public costs associated with teen childbearing.

Bill Albert, chief program officer for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said "[i]n the battle between sex and sex with contraception, sex often wins." This mindset hasn’t changed with the increase in the use of the morning after pill, but what has changed is the number and burden of unwanted teen pregnancies.

In the battle between teens having sex and teens having babies, I’m all for the extra protection of the morning-after pill.

 

Image via Zurijeta/shutterstock

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