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Discuss Safe Sex With Teens Openly and Honestly, Travis County Survey Says

New research by UT Austin’s Child & Family Research Institute in collaboration with the Healthy Youth Partnership identifies the main barriers to safe sex practices among teens in Travis County. 

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AUSTIN, Texas — New research by The University of Texas at Austin Child & Family Research Institute in collaboration with the Healthy Youth Partnership has found that the main barriers to safe sex practices among teens in Travis County include lack of access and misinformation about birth control, embarrassment when purchasing condoms and legal restrictions requiring teens to get parental consent to access reproductive services.

The study also found that when asked about how to reduce the teen birth rate in Travis County, teens and parents recommended increased, open and honest communication about sex in their communities through comprehensive sex education, including discussion of contraception methods and information about available sexual and reproductive health resources for teens.

“This study was a collaborative effort by youth-serving professionals to understand what is happening in Travis County around teen pregnancy prevention,” said Monica Faulkner, associate director of the Child & Family Research Institute at the School of Social Work and principal investigator on the study. “Everyone has assumptions about teen sexuality and teen pregnancy prevention, but the reality is that we have to understand the issue in order to best utilize our resources.”

A majority of teens were in support of birth control use, and all teens reported having received some type of information on sex education topics — the most common was “how to say no to sex” and “the importance of using birth control if you have sex.” Teens cited condoms as the most common method to prevent pregnancies and were able to name several local resources for birth control.

Teens generally interpreted “birth control” as a hormonal method like the pill, separate from condoms, and 35 percent of teen survey respondents agreed that birth control was mainly the woman’s responsibility. The same percentage agreed that carrying condoms was a man’s responsibility.

“Teens conveyed that they feel trapped by messages they receive about sex and their role as a man or woman,” Faulkner said. “They felt boys are rewarded for having sex while girls are shamed. The teens and parents in our study understood that these norms hurt both boys and girls and that we need to change the conversation.”

Researchers conducted 16 focus groups with a total of 73 participants including teens, teen mothers and fathers, and parents. Focus group participants also completed a survey with questions about their demographics, attitudes toward sex and childbearing, and sex education.

In addition to the focus groups, researchers used an online survey to collect information from Central Texas service providers, educators, school staffers and medical providers about their attitudes, values, services offered related to sexual health, and the barriers they and their clients face providing and accessing services. The survey was completed by 134 participants.

Survey results indicate that approximately 50 percent of respondents across all three groups identified laws and regulations as a barrier to providing resources and information to teens. Medical and service providers most frequently identified funding and lack of parental support as barriers.

“Professionals reported that they feel constricted in talking to teens about contraception because they are not sure what is allowed, and so in many cases they just avoid the conversation,” Faulkner said. “In contrast, teens are reporting that they want conversations about these issues.”

Texas still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation, 85 per 1,000 females aged 15-19, ranking third behind New Mexico and Mississippi. Even while the national rate of teen pregnancy continues to decline, teen pregnancy rates in Travis County remain high, with 63 teen pregnancies per 1,000 females aged 15-19.

[View the key findings.]