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Adolescent Sexual Activity (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Why don't teens consistently use contraception? Many teens simply are not mature enough to admit to themselves that they are sexually active or that they plan to be. Consistent contraceptive use, especially hormonal methods like birth control pills, requires that adolescents recognize they are sexually active and plan for sex far in advance of the act itself—something that is incompatible with many teens' views of sexual activity as being spontaneous. Some teens do not use contraceptives because they're afraid their parents will discover that they are sexually active. Others say they do not know where to get contraceptives or that they aren't easily available. Surprisingly, despite the years of sex education that most teens have, some still have misunderstandings about sex and pregnancy or hold misconceptions about the need for contraceptives and how to use them. For example, some teens believe that if they do not have sex frequently, they do not need contraceptives, or that taking a single birth control pill shortly before or after having sex will protect them. And some teens simply don't believe that things like pregnancy or STDs will happen to them. The belief that one is special and invincible is called the personal fable, and is related to cognitive development during adolescence (see Chapter 5). Finally, for some adolescents, lack of contraceptive use is part of a broader pattern of risk-taking behaviors and impulsivity (Averett, Rees, & Argus, 2002; Iuliano, Speizer, Santelli, & Kendall, 2006; Kaplan, 2004; Miller & Moore, 1990).

Almost all public school systems provide sex education programs. Churches and community organizations such as Planned Parenthood, the YMCA, Boy Scouts, and Girl Scouts also offer these programs. Recent studies find that students' knowledge of sex and contraception is increased by participating in sex education programs, though they don't always participate in these programs before they become sexually active (Kirby, 2002; Lindberg, Ku, & Sonenstein, 2000). However, a surprising number of teens have little knowledge of what STDs are, how they are spread, and how to prevent them. For example, only one third of teens in one study knew that chlamydia is an STD. Another found that many teens in their sample believed that condoms cause STDs (Downs, deBruin, Murray, & Fischhoff, 2006; Garside, Ayres, & Owen, 2001; Halpern-Felsher et al., 2005; Hamilton, Ventura, Martin, & Sutton, 2005; Lagerberg, 2004; McKay, 2004).

Almost everyone agrees that it is essential to provide sex education in schools, but there is heated debate about what to teach in sex-ed classes. Read about the debate between abstinence-only and comprehensive sex-ed programs in the Social Policy Perspective on page 401, "The Sex Education Debate."

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