Compadre High School student Jackie Perez, 18, talks to her son Jacob while other students board the bus from Compadre High School in Tempe, Ariz., Thursday, Feb. 21, 2008. Last year, the Tempe Union High School District was able to offer girls who are in the Teen Age Pregnancy Program transportation. The school bus driver shortage that has swept metropolitan Phoenix has hit the program and is affecting not just pregnant teens, but also teen moms.

Latina teen pregnancy rates as well as overall U.S. teen pregnancy rates have declined sharply. (AP Photo/East Valley Tribune, Thomas Boggan)

Teen pregnancy plunges but sex can still be taboo among Latina moms

Eva Cardenas, 24, had just turned 18 when she had her baby. She said that growing up, her parents had a lot of control over what she did after school, and sex became a sort of rebellion. Her mother never talked to her about sex or birth control. “It never occurred to me that I should go to a gynecologist,” she says.

As many as one in four Hispanics born in the United States to immigrant parents gives birth to a child before her 20th birthday. The rate is only higher in Hispanics who come to the U.S. as immigrants.

Carolina Gómez, 26, says that many times parents “don’t have ‘la confianza’ to talk to you about birth control.” Many traditional immigrant Latino parents believe you shouldn’t have sex until marriage and are in denial about their children having sex. Gómez  had her baby when she was 17. She said that while she was growing up, her parents were very strict. Like Eva, she believes sex was a way of acting out.

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This is a reality for many young Latinas, particularly those of immigrant parents. When bicultural Latina teens try to assert their independence, this may cause conflict with traditional parents. As a result, these young women can sometimes feel alienated. This tension can contribute to our high teen pregnancy rates.

The promising news is that teen pregnancy rates overall have reached a three-decade low, which is a 40 percent drop since 1990. And though Latina teens still had twice as many teen births and abortions than non-Hispanic whites, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics found that birth rates for Latina teens have reached an all-time low. This is a huge improvement, and some of it is due to the efforts of organizations working to prevent teen pregnancy.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has been addressing this issue for 16 years. Their Latino Initiative includes culturally-specific programming to address this issue. They have also created a video called Demasiado Joven, which is “an uplifting look at teen pregnancy in the Latino community, as told by Latino teen parents.” The website also provides valuable materials for parents, including tips for talking to their teens, which are also translated to Spanish.

Another effective program is the Changing the Odds Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, located in the Bronx, which led to 53 percent less teen pregnancies, 60 percent lower risk of course failure, and a 60 percent reduction in the school dropout rate. They also found that “Hispanic parents, and even more specifically, Spanish-speaking Hispanic parents, were the most supportive of proper sex and contraception along with abstinence education.” This is very encouraging in beginning a dialogue between parents and teens.

Improving communication is critical in further reducing rates. Cardenas believes that parents need “to be honest about sex and build trust with their children.” She also notes that it’s important to consider that our communities also come from poor backgrounds and sometimes lack access to birth control.

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Many young Latinas face discrimination, poverty, and limited access to health care, which can contribute to unintended pregnancy. Both Cardenas and Gómez expressed that they didn’t know anything about birth control. It’s important to note that the recent decline in teen pregnancy can be largely attributed to more reliable birth control. A recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine, for instance, found that long-acting reversible contraception is more effective than contraceptive pills. The failure was 22 times higher with the pill than with IUDs in adult women, and double that for teens. Young women in our communities need to be educated about different forms of birth control to make the best choices for themselves.

For Latinas who struggle financially, the Obama Administration’s Affordable Care Act may be helpful since it includes preventive health care services for women’s health and well-being under all insurance plans, without copays or deductibles. If young women are unaware of their choices, these measures are not useful to them. Educating them about their reproductive options, in addition to increasing communication within families, is critical. The combination of these measures can even further reduce the already declining teen pregnancy rate.

Teen pregnancy plunges but sex can still be taboo among Latina moms erika l sanchez parenting family NBC Latino News

Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Madrid, Spain, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is currently a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a contributor for The Huffington Post, AlterNet, and Mamiverse. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Witness, Anti-, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Jezebel, Ms. Magazine, and American Public Media. You can find her on FacebookTwitter, or

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