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Help Keep Teenage Pregnancy Rates Down by Making Responsible Choices
Copyright American Osteopathic Association

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, D.O., 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 and the consequences of their actions.

Young women have many choices when it comes to contraception, for example. Some of the contraceptive methods available are:

* Norplant-A physician places six small capsules in your upper arm.These capsules release progestin, the hormone that prevents the release of your eggs and thickens cervical mucus to make it more difficult for sperm to fertilize your eggs.

* Depo-Provera-A physician injects progestin in your arm or your buttocks every 12 weeks.

* The Pill-This is prescribed by a physician, and it is the woman's responsibility to take one every day. The pill can be a combination of estrogen and progestin or progestin alone.

* Diaphragm-A physician will fit you with a shallow latex cup that is inserted into your vagina.

* Condom-This must be placed on the erect penis right before penetration. It can be made of latex, plastic or animal tissue. Keep in mind that animal tissue provides very poor protection against STDs. A limited number of brands of female condoms also exist.

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 cases of STDs are diagnosed every year and two-thirds of STDs occur among people in the 15-24 age range.This same study found that by the age of 24, one in three sexually active people will have contracted an STD.
Some of the more common STDs that can affect young women include:

* Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS)-Caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), this disease destroys the body's ability to fight off infection.

* Chlamydia-The most common of all STDs, its symptoms can include abnormal genital discharge and a burning sensation with urination.

* Genital Herpes-These infections are caused by the herpes simplex virus. An infected person may find painful blisters or open sores in the genital area.

* Genital Warts-This STD is caused by a virus related to the one that results in common skin warts. Genital warts can lead to cervical cancer in some women.

* Gonorrhea-The symptoms for this infection include abnormal genital discharge and painful or difficult urination.

* Syphilis-Symptoms may involve painless sores on the genitals, mouth or fingers; enlarged lymph nodes in the areas with the sores; fever; fatigue; and loss of appetite. However, the symptoms of syphilis often go undetected because they can be mild and may disappear suddenly. If left untreated, the infection invades internal organs, bones and the brain.

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.
As physicians who emphasize prevention and wellness, D.O.s strongly support the U.S. Surgeon General's Healthy People 2010 initiative in the quest to improve quality of life and increase the number of years of healthy life.

The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) reminds you that November 12-18 is National Osteopathic Medicine Week. This year's target group is young women from the ages of 12 to 24. During this time, osteopathic physicians will work to raise awareness among young women regarding the many issues they face as they strive to maintain healthy lifestyles. In addition, D.O.s hope to educate them on how preventive care can help maintain good health throughout their lives.D.O.s are fully licensed physicians who have additional training that focuses on the body's structure and function as well as its ability to heal itself.

For more information on osteopathic medicine or to locate a D.O. in your area, call the AOA at 1.800.621.1773, ext. 8252, or visit the AOA's Web site at

Did You Know...?

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

* By the time they graduate, 66 percent 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.

* Three quarters of teen mothers are unmarried and
60 percent of them are between 18 and 19 years old.

* The younger a sexually active teenaged girl is, the more likely she is to have had unwanted or non-voluntary sex.

Sources: Planned Parenthood and National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

You can contact the following organizations for additional information:

American Social Health Association
PO Box 13827
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
2100 M Street NW, Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20037

Planned Parenthood Federation of America
810 Seventh Avenue
New York, NY 10010

Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network
635-B Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20003
1.800.656.HOPE (hotline)

Craig M. Wax, DO, LLC of Mullica Hill, NJ provides information on health, nutrition, family medicine, preventive medicine, wellness, natural treatments, alternative medicine, integrative medicine, osteopathic medicine and just plain common sense.
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