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Rebecca Wind
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SCHOOLS AND FAMILY ARE TEENS’ MOST TRUSTED SOURCES OF INFORMATION ABOUT CONTRACEPTION

Teens View Information About Abstinence and Contraception
As Compatible—and Necessary

Teens are most commonly exposed to information about contraception through schools, family members and friends, according to two new qualitative studies by Rachel K. Jones et al. In-depth interviews with 58 high school students in Indiana and New York City suggest that teens view contraceptive information positively. Notably, the researchers found that teens do not see an inconsistency in receiving information about both contraception and abstinence, and that they believe it is important to obtain information about both in order to make informed choices.

“While some claim that providing teens with information about both contraception and abstinence sends a mixed message, what we found was very different,” says lead author Rachel Jones of the Guttmacher Institute. “For many of these teens, information about contraception and abstinence is not only compatible, but necessary. Teens believe they need a range of information—about abstinence, about contraception, about consequences—to make the best decisions.”

While most of the participants believed that both abstinence and contraception were appropriate strategies for preventing pregnancy, they spoke more positively about condoms than about hormonal methods. Lack of information about how hormonal methods work, along with exposure to information about potential side effects, made some teens wary of these methods. Condoms were regarded more positively because they reduced the risk of both pregnancy and STDs.

The researchers found that exposure to contraceptive information varied from school to school, ranging from limited information about condoms to more in-depth information about a variety of contraceptive methods. Regardless of the amount of information they had received from this source, study participants viewed schools and teachers as trustworthy sources of factual information on sexual health issues.

Most teens had also been exposed to contraceptive information from family members, though for some teens, and males in particular, this information was often superficial. For female teens, in-depth information about contraception was sometimes provided when family members talked about their personal experiences. Most teens placed a high level of trust in contraceptive information and messages provided by family members, parents in particular, as they were regarded as having the teens’ best interests at heart.

Many teens said they had discussed contraception with their friends, most of whom encouraged its use; however, they tended to be skeptical of at least some of the sexual health information they received from friends. Other, less common, sources of contraceptive information included romantic partners, the media, the Internet and health care providers.

Teen girls reported higher levels of exposure to contraceptive information across all sources than did teen boys, while teen boys were more likely to receive superficial information and “safe sex sound bites” from several sources, including family members. Additionally, sexually active teens were more likely to have discussed contraception with friends, family and romantic partners, but even those who were not sexually experienced had spoken with friends and family about contraception.

The authors suggest that the data support bolstering school-based, comprehensive sex education that includes in-depth information about abstinence and contraception.

Teens Reflect on Their Sources of Contraceptive Information,” by Rachel K. Jones, of the Guttmacher Institute, et al., is currently available online and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Adolescent Research.

The More Things Change…: The Relative Importance of the Internet as a Source of Contraceptive Information for Teens,” by Rachel K. Jones (Guttmacher Institute) and Ann E. Biddlecom (United Nations Population Division), is currently available online and will appear in a forthcoming issue of Sexual Research and Social Policy.

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