Teenage pregnancy rates are at an all-time low thanks to younger people spending more time on social media, drinking less alcohol and being family-orientated, according to a report by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (bpas).
The latest statistics show teen pregnancy rates in England and Wales fell by 55% between 2007 and 2016, and following a survey and online focus groups made up of 16-18-year-olds, Katherine O’Brien, head of policy research at bpas, believes this is because “young people themselves are making different choices about the way they live their lives”.
The charity’s report highlights a variety of factors that could be impacting on teen conception rates, including teens being more family-orientated; romantic and sexual relationships increasingly being experienced online and through sexting, which is seen by many as an alternative, as well as a precursor to intercourse; and better access to reliable contraceptives.
“If we can maintain good access to contraceptive services for young people, there is every reason to hope this profound decline in teenage pregnancies is here to stay,” O’Brien says.
Sex education was also highlighted as making a difference, as those who evaluate their sex and relationships education (SRE) as good appear likely to delay sexual activity, which bpas said should give added impetus government plans to introduce mandatory SRE from September 2019.
Teens are also drinking “significantly less alcohol” than previous generations. Almost one quarter (24%) reported they never drink alcohol, and of those who do drink, most do so at relatively low levels. Furthermore teens who consumed alcohol at lower levels were less likely to have engaged in sexual activity, suggesting changing drinking behaviours may have contributed to the decline in pregnancies.
Among those who did not drink, the main reasons for abstaining were health and/or risk related reasons, cited by 55% of those who did not drink. Dislike for the taste and/or the effects of drinking alcohol were also cited, as well as religious and cultural reasons.
“I don’t think my culture would be happy with me drinking,” one of the participants said. “I’m not religious anymore but I was raised Muslim and Muslims can’t drink.”
O’Brien says while the findings should be welcomed, it’s important not to stigmatise teenage mothers in the process: “Many teenage mothers provide a loving, caring home for their child, and every parent should be supported.”
She adds: “It’s clear that there is no silver bullet in preventing unplanned pregnancy at any age. While contraception and sex and relationships education can play a vital role, they must be delivered at a high quality in order to do so.
“Our research reveals that this is a generation who are focused on their education, aware of economic challenges but determined to succeed regardless, and many of whom enjoy time with their families as much as with partners and friends. They seem to place significant value on responsibility and maturity, particularly when it comes to alcohol consumption and sex.”