Birth Control, Abstinence and Unplanned Pregnancy

Recently, the type of sex education received by teenagers and young adults has come under the microscope. Some have criticized sex education programs for their focus (or lack thereof) on either abstinence or birth control as a way to prevent unplanned pregnancy and abortion.

Birth control and unplanned pregnancy are a sensitive topic for many, but a recent study has tried to analyze the connection between abstinence and contraceptive sex education, and the likelihood of experiencing an unplanned pregnancy. A total of 1,400 North American women were asked: “Where did you get your sex education, and are you satisfied?”

Parents, School and Sex Education
Women can receive sex education and information about birth control from a variety of sources. These include parents, school programs, doctors, clinics, friends, books and the Internet. In fact, the study found that women were more satisfied as well as less likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy if they received sex education from a variety of sources.

In particular, the majority of respondents preferred getting information about sex from their friends, as well as other informal sources as opposed to schools and clinics, for example. Satisfaction proved to be an important consideration, and seems to be connected to fewer unplanned pregnancies.

Birth Control vs Abstinence Education
The debate about sex education with a focus on either abstinence or contraception has been highlighted by critics. More specifically, the question arises: what type of education system can prevent unplanned pregnancies and abortion?

According to the study, women who received no education about abstinence or birth control from parents and schools were the most likely to have an unplanned pregnancy. In contrast, those who received sex education that either focused on abstinence only, or equally focused on abstinence and contraception in school were least likely to have an unplanned pregnancy or abortion.

In addition, the study looked at the relationship between religion and sex education. The results suggest that women who are not affiliated with a religion such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism were more likely to experience an unplanned pregnancy. This may be due to the type of education received from religious parents; for example, parents of respondents of Christian affiliation were more likely to teach their daughters about abstinence.

Conclusions: What Does It All Mean?
So what does the type of sex education a woman receives say about her chances of having an unplanned pregnancy?

The study suggests that the best way to prevent unplanned pregnancy and abortion is by offering sex education that includes abstinence as a viable alternative to contraception, particularly when combined with birth control education. Indeed, respondents whose religious and cultural backgrounds encouraged abstinence were less likely to report an unplanned pregnancy, though education about contraceptive methods remains an important part of the equation.

Offering other sources of sex education such as birth control and STD information from Internet sources may also be beneficial since most women preferred informal sex education. In fact, the data used in the study was retrieved through an Internet survey that was not connected to any other websites. While this may make for some biased response rates, overall the Internet seems to be an important option to consider when it comes to offering discussion and education about sex for teenagers.

When it comes to new models of sex education, school and parents still play an important role in preventing the risk of unplanned pregnancy. However, the study suggests that a peer model for sex education could prove beneficial, since women were more satisfied when receiving information from friends.

Source: M. T. Williams, L. Bonner, “Sex Education Attitudes and Outcomes Among North American Women,” Adolescence, 41(161):1-14, Spring 2006 [download pdf now]

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