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Teens Need Our Help to Stay Healthy 

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They don't always ask, but teens need our help with so many things: homework, learning to drive, dating—and, yes, avoiding unintended pregnancy. While the teen pregnancy rate has declined significantly over the past two decades, it's still a serious issue in Central Oregon. May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and it's a good reminder that we all need to help teens get the information and resources, and build the skills they need to stay healthy and prevent pregnancy until they're ready to become parents.

Did you know that one in three young women in the United States will become pregnant before she even turns 20? In fact, nearly 750,000 teenagers in this country will become pregnant this year alone. Getting pregnant as a teen can have serious consequences for a young person's future. Becoming a parent as a teenager affects young people's ability to finish school, influences their ability to make a living and can affect their children in numerous ways.

For some communities, teen pregnancy is even more of an issue. For example, teen pregnancy rates among rural teens are higher than their urban peers. (Jefferson County's teen pregnancy rate is twice that of Deschutes County.) Meanwhile, lesbian and bisexual teenagers are twice as likely as their heterosexual peers to become pregnant unintentionally.

The good news is that we know what works to prevent teen pregnancy. Research shows that comprehensive sex education—the type of education provided by Planned Parenthood—helps young people delay sex and increases the use of contraception and condoms when they do become sexually active. Sex education is also supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics—and by a majority of Americans, including more than 90 percent of parents and teens.

Unfortunately, a new study indicates that fewer U.S. teens are receiving formal sex education now than in the past. The Guttmacher Institute analyzed data on students from 2006-10 and from 2011-13, and researchers found that, between the two survey periods, the proportion of teens who reported receiving formal education about birth control decreased from 70 percent to 60 percent among females and from 61 percent to 55 percent among males. Even worse: 43 percent of adolescent females and 57 percent of adolescent males did not receive information about birth control before they had sex for the first time.

Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette believes that sex education and access to contraception make a real difference in preventing teen pregnancy. We need to continue working to ensure that young people get the information and services they need to prevent both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases—so that our youth can reach their goals and have the brightest futures possible.

Liliana Cabrera serves Deschutes, Jefferson and Crook counties as the Community Education and Outreach Coordinator for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, the largest nonprofit provider of sexual and reproductive health care and youth education programs in Oregon and Southwest Washington. For more information, visit www.PPCW.org.

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