Unintended pregnancies represent nearly 50% of all pregnancies in America. Half of the couples experiencing unintended pregnancies do so because they do not use any form of contraceptives. Couples choose not to use contraceptives for various reasons, one of which is assumed infertility. Teenagers are most likely to have sex without contraceptive use because they believe they are infertile. Many teens who have had sex in the past without getting pregnant think that they cannot conceive and therefore consider contraceptive use unnecessary. Although some of these teens may truly be infertile, the majority of them are not. Even those who have had spontaneous miscarriages or have a family history of infertility cannot be assured they are infertile without verification from a doctor. And few of these teens seek medical attention for infertility prior to engaging in sexual activities. Adolescents are already more susceptible to increased stress from hormonal, academic, and social changes, and deciding not to use contraception makes them more vulnerable to added anxiety and worry about the potential for becoming pregnant or contracting sexually transmitted diseases.
In an effort to understand what other factors influence young adults’ decisions not to use contraception, Chelsea Bernhardt Polis of the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore assessed the attitudes towards infertility among 1,800 young couples between the ages of 18 and 29. She found that a nearly 20% of the participants believed that they could not conceive, a rate much higher than the national average of people who have been medically diagnosed as being infertile. Of the women who thought they were infertile, 20% of had never even been examined by a doctor for infertility.
Bernhardt Polis believes that messages designed to encourage contraceptive use among young people may actually be leading people to question their infertility. Public services messages tell people that they can get pregnant after just one sexual encounter. So when women do not conceive, after multiple sexual encounters, they may think that they are incapable of conceiving and stop using contraception. Additionally, cultural stigmas and financial conditions may present further barriers to contraceptive use, increasing one’s risk for unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Bernhardt Polis believes these findings underscore the importance of addressing perceived and actual infertility among young people. She added, “Improved provider counseling and sex education may be useful in helping them to better understand their actual probability of infertility, and this knowledge may lead to improved contraceptive use.”
Polis, C. B., Zabin, L. S. (2012). Missed conceptions or misconceptions: Perceived infertility among unmarried young adults in the United States. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health 44.1, 30-38.
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