Pregnancy, STDs: How savvy are today’s girls?

Straight Talk for Teens
By: Lauren Forcella
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Dear Straight Talk: My granddaughter “Tamara” is 16 and I suspect she is sexually active. Her mother travels for weeks at a time with her work and she and Tamara do not appear bonded. What I’d like to know is what girls this age are doing to protect themselves from pregnancy and transmitted disease. Once I have a snapshot from your teen panel, I can approach her in a way that doesn’t alienate. — Pacific Grove, CA Abi, 21, Pope Air Force Base, NC, (deployed): The average age is probably 15 for girls to start using birth control pills. The pill is the most commonly used product because there is a wide selection of hormone levels. As for condoms, most girls are oblivious to HIV and other STDs and “wrapping it before tapping it” usually goes out the window. Laura, 22, Fair Oaks: Both in high school and college, the pill is the default birth control. I knew one girl in high school, and now one in college, on Depo-Provera (the birth control shot), but that’s the only exception. The common time to begin birth control is during high school, but age varies from girl to girl. For STDs, most girls use condoms. But girls on the pill often don’t use condoms because they feel it’s redundant, even though the pill doesn’t protect them from STDs. I have college friends that use neither condoms nor birth control. They know they’re not being smart, but they have the mindset that nothing happened to them before so nothing’s going to happen now. Nicole, 19, Arcata: About 80 percent of my friends are on the pill and most began taking it around 15 and 16. Callie, 18, Redding: Not counting condoms, of the girls I know using birth control, about 90 percent use the pill. The remaining 10 percent use things like the shot, patch, or NuvaRing, which also use hormones like the pill. The average age girls start using birth control is 16 to 17, although some begin as early as 14 to get their body used to the hormones. Brie, 17, Ashland, OR: Most sexually active girls I know are on the pill and they obtain it from my high school student health center or Planned Parenthood. The pill is preferred because it’s one of the most effective methods — but only if the pills are taken at the same time every day. Rachel, 17, Fair Oaks: For their first time having sex, every girl I know only used a condom. But once girls have boyfriends they usually just use the pill figuring they’re in a relationship and their partner doesn’t have STDs. However, none of my friends have been tested, with or without their partners, so how they assume they are clean is beyond me. In my school sex-ed is coed and everyone laughs everything off awkwardly. I’m disappointed that most girls aren’t open about their sex lives with even their mothers, but then, most parents aren’t supportive. Dear Pacific Grove: There’s your snapshot. The panel’s observations match 2006 Guttenmacher Institute statistics which show that sex is fairly rare at age 15 with only 13 percent of teens ever having intercourse. But by age 19, that figure jumps to 70 percent, with 17 being the age when most teens have first sex. Although the pill is definitely the most popular birth control for teens, with condoms second, the US leads the developing world in teen pregnancies and adolescent sex accounts for half the new STI cases each year. Every “Tamara” out there needs a mother-figure to talk to as nearly half her peer group is sexually active. Be understanding and non-judgmental, take small, patient steps as if charming a feral cat. At this stage, connection, not control, will give you the most influence. Good luck. To write us or inquire about being a panelist, visit or write P.O. Box 963 Fair Oaks, CA 95628.