Teen Pregnancy ~ Maine’s Encouraging News!

In last week’s blog post highlighting Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, we talked about how the US compares to the rest of the industrialized world with respect to teen sexual behavior and pregnancy rates. Let’s zoom in to look at Maine and how we compare to other U.S. states.

Did you know that Maine has the 6th lowest teen pregnancy rate in the U.S.? Maine’s teen pregnancy rate of 43 (per 1,000 females ages 15-19) is much lower than the U.S. rate of 68. The lowest rate in the U.S. is found in New Hampshire (33) and the highest rate in the U.S. is in New Mexico (93).

Many factors affect teen pregnancy rates ~ demographics, socio-economics, education policies and access to health care resources for young people.  Here are some of the things Maine has done right in order to lower what were some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the U.S. 30 years ago:

Maine supports comprehensive sexuality education.
In 2002, after a long history of supporting family life education in schools, the Maine legislature passed the Comprehensive Family Life Act, which states that students have the right to comprehensive sex education. This means many of our teens receive medically accurate, non-biased information in school about sexual health.

Maine supports laws that give teens the right to confidential reproductive health services. All around the state, family planning clinics, school based health centers and other health care providers offer teens these confidential services at little to no cost, making services both accessible and affordable for sexually active teens.

While parental involvement is encouraged, the reality is that many young people do not talk to their parents about their sexual health or decisions—at least not right away. That’s why it’s so important that Maine educators and health care providers are there to support teens as they make decisions around their health and relationships.

The research is clear: pairing comprehensive sexuality education with access to reproductive health services leads to lower rates of teen pregnancy and STD infection.

Consider the statistics, from what teens themselves reported in the 2011 Maine Youth Health Survey:

  • 55% of high school students ~ and 90% of middle school students! ~ report not being sexually active — a percentage that has steadily increased over the past 15 years.
  • Of high school students who reported being sexually active, 64% also reported using a condom at last sexual intercourse.

This is encouraging news!  This data shows us that there are many students making healthy sexual decisions.

At the same time, by the time Maine high school students are seniors, 65% have become sexually active.  And while condom use is relatively high in Maine, we know that many teens are still at risk of STDs and unintended pregnancy.

A sexually active teen who doesn’t use contraception has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within a year.  And Maine is experiencing increases in chlamydia and gonorrhea rates among teens, ages 15-19. Clearly, we need to be diligent in supporting efforts to keep Maine’s teen pregnancy rates low.

Next week’s we’ll venture into the classroom to see how the FPA’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program supports Maine educators and students.

~ Christine Letcher, Pregnancy Prevention Coordinator

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