Pregnancy Prevention: It’s About Relationships

Cindy Carraway-Wilson

I recently attended the Summer Sexuality Institute offered by Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. As always at PPNE events, I got lots of great information on adolescent sexual development and health. It’s in the context of this recent learning experience that one article in this issue of our ‘Into Practice’ newsletter particularly resonated with me: ‘Study Uncovers Extent of Pregnancy Coercion by Male Partners.’

If I could sigh in print, I would. It seems that whoever controls female reproduction rules the world, even if that world is as small as one couple or one family. Why, in 2010, is this sort of thing still happening — and, if this study is correct, happening frequently?

It’s fascinating that there’s been so little research on male control of female reproduction, particularly as it impacts young women. As we all know, unplanned pregnancy is a very real problem for adolescent girls and young women, and one for which they themselves are generally blamed. This study clearly documents how misplaced this blame can be. It seems that even when young women are doing their best to manage their fertility, they are often victimized through sabotage, or more broadly, through the unhealthy relationships that produce and tolerate sabotage. And for me, that’s the point: Too many pregnancy prevention programs focus on the mechanics of sex and risks related to pregnancy and STIs, but are still silent on relationship issues.

But those of us in the field know that quality of relationship matters perhaps most of all. One afternoon at the Summer Sexuality Institute a panel of young people spoke, and their message was clear: they know all about the mechanics of sex, they understand the risks of unprotected sex, and they understand how to prevent or reduce the risks of pregnancy and STIs. What they want is more information about how to have a healthy relationship, what to do if the relationship isn’t healthy, how to know when they were really ready for sex, and genuine conversation about the experience of healthy human sex.

Who among us couldn’t have benefited from this kind of information when we were young? Frank communication in a supportive environment, and in the context of healthy non-sexual relationships, could make all the difference for young women, like those in this study, who find themselves in sexually coercive relationships. Luckily, this support is exactly what skilled youth workers can provide, and what many of us are already doing.

 Cindy Carraway-Wilson is Youth Catalytics’ Director of Training.