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U.S. teen pregnancy rate down, but Canada’s is still lower

Carolyn Morris
Shine On
May 4, 2012

While we've heard that many women are over-estimating the effectiveness of birth control, it seems our teenage counterparts are increasingly in the know.

According to recent findings by the Guttmacher Institute, teen pregnancy in the United States is at a 30-year low.

And this week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides a possible explanation. By analyzing data from three separate surveys the National Survey of Family Growth for 1995, 2002, and 2006-2010, researchers found that a larger portion of teenage girls had never had sex in the most recent survey compared to the oldest.

They also noted that an increased percentage of the sexually active teens reported using highly effective methods of contraception.

"This is great news, but take it with a grain of salt," writes Jezebel's Erin Gloria Ryan.

Related: Birth control failures are more common than women think: study

Indeed. American teenagers are still getting pregnant at a higher rate than in other developed countries, including Canada. While the U.S. celebrates the decline to 67.8 pregnancies per 1,000 girls 15 to 19 years old in 2008, the latest Canadian statistic shows that in 2005, only 24.6 out of 1,000 girls aged 14 to 19 became pregnant.

And the rate has been on the downturn in this country too. According to a 2010 report published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, teen birth and abortion rates declined in Canada by 36.9 per cent from 1996 to 2006. Researchers also found that Canada's rates were the lowest compared to Sweden, England/Wales and the U.S.

"We like to think that a lot of it has to do with our work," says long-time Toronto sexual educator Lyba Spring.

"Adolescents are putting off first intercourse, vaginal intercourse, until later," she says. "We know that. Which means there's less likelihood of pregnancy."

She also points out that more sexually active teens are using condoms, which may not be the most effective method of birth control, but at least it gives protection.

"And that can only be attributed to an increase in education and access," she says.

But as rosy as the picture looks, she argues, the subject is complex. There are huge discrepancies across urban and rural lines, and Aboriginal youth and teens from low socio-economic status have much higher pregnancy rates.

Related: Pacifiers don't interfere with breastfeeding: study

While she applauds the successes of sex education, she thinks a lot more needs to be done.

"There has to be access to sexual health centres, access to birth control that's affordable, effective and safe. And there has to be access to abortion services as a back-up."

Also, she adds, "Among the various methods of birth control, there has to be access to Plan B, the emergency contraceptive pill." It's sold over-the-counter in much of Canada, but not everywhere.

So while sexual educators continue to inform teens about birth control options, and social conservatives hail the success of teaching abstinence, others have a less conventional view.

Writer Hugo Schwyzer argues on Jezebel that dropping teen pregnancy rates might have something to do with teenage boys being more romantic and anxious about sex than in previous generations.

Despite differing explanations from groups, what do you suspect is the reason for the dropped rate? Have you noticed a change in behaviour or attitude from the teens your life?

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