American Osteopathic Association

Advancing the distinctive philosophy and practice of osteopathic medicine

Teen Pregnancy: Making Responsible Choices

​With over one million American teenage girls becoming pregnant every year, the United States holds the title for having the highest rate of teenage pregnancy in the industrialized world. To gain a clearer picture of this statistic, that breaks down to one out of five sexually active girls becoming pregnant. However, while those numbers are a bit overwhelming, pregnancy rates have been on the decline in the past few years.

Helping Young Women Decide

Most physicians agree that prior to becoming sexually active, young women should be fully informed about abstinence, contraceptive methods and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Young women also need to know that they have rights when choosing to engage in sexual activity. "Young women need to know they have the right to decide if they are ready for sex," says Margaret Nusbaum, DO, an osteopathic family physician in North Carolina. "They have the right to say "no" or to declare limits on sexual activity. They need to know they should be able to come to a decision about sex without being pressured."

And they should know that many teenage girls have chosen abstinence, whether because of their personal morals, religious values or other reasons. Also, many girls choose abstinence because it is the only method that is 100 percent effective for preventing pregnancy and avoiding STDs.

Although many young women have chosen abstinence, the fact remains that many other young women have decided to become sexually active. Before experiencing their "first time," young women should know about their choices regarding contraception and the consequences of their actions.

Consequences of Becoming Sexually Active

Young women who have made the choice to become sexually active need to recognize the responsibilities that come along with this decision. "As sexually active young women, they need to share the responsibility for sexual health and birth control with their partners," insists Dr. Nusbaum.

One of the most important things to bear in mind when deciding to have sex is the possibility of becoming pregnant.

"More than 50 percent of pregnancies are unplanned," she stresses. "If unplanned, a pregnancy can have a negative impact on a woman who may have wanted to focus on a career or school. But if she has a child, the baby becomes the priority."

Another consequence of sexual activity lies in the risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases. According to a 1998 study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation, approximately 15 million new people contract STDs each year. Of them, one-fourth are teenagers. This same study found that by the age of 24, one in three sexually active people will have contracted an STD.

With the potential health risks and the ever-present possibility of becoming pregnant, young women need to seriously consider when is the right time to engage in sexual activity. It is a major decision to become sexually active, and young women need to have as much information as possible in order to make the best choices for themselves.

Did You Know...?

  • The average age of first intercourse among Americans is age 16.

  • By the time they graduate, approximately 65% of high school seniors have had sex.

  • Teens who have been raised by both parents from birth have lower chances of having sex than teens growing up in other family situations.

  • Approximately 40% of teen mothers complete high school and fewer than two percent obtain their college degree by the age of 30.

  • Three out of four teen girls who have had intercourse said they wish they would have waited longer to have sex.

Additional Resources

Planned Parenthood



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