When it comes to sexually active teenage girls, there are many things we fail to discuss with them. Helping them to understand healthy relationships, both emotional and sexual, can lead to less problems for them down the line. A recent study finds that adolescent girls in sexual relationships are experiencing relationship abuse at an alarming rate. This abuse includes reproductive coercion, or forcing a person to become pregnant against their wishes.
Researchers from Michigan State University found that one in eight females between the ages of 14 and 19 have experienced reproductive coercion in the last three months. Types of forced coercion include tampering with the condom and the partner threatening to leave. Additionally, the study uses data from a previously conducted trial from eight California school based health centers from the 2012-2013 school year. They assess 550 sexually active female teenagers.
Until this study, which is the largest study on the subject with adolescents, most studies on relationship abuse put the focus on young adult women. Because adolescent and adult relationships operate so differently, it's important for clinicians to know what to look for in younger patients. Being able to recognize reproductive coercion and coming up with intervention plans are important.
"We looked at whether adolescents who experience reproductive coercion displayed the 'red flags' we typically teach clinicians to look for -- like coming into the clinic multiple times for emergency contraception or pregnancy testing," says assistant professor in the School of Social Work Heather McCauley.
McCauley goes on to note that they didn't find any differences between girls experiencing reproductive coercion and those who aren't when it comes to seeking care. She adds, " clinicians should have conversations with all their adolescent patients about how relationships can impact their health." And although previous research pointed out racial disparities when it comes to reproductive coercion, that wasn't a factor with this study of teen girls.
The researchers also made some other important discoveries during the study. 17 percent of the teens involved reported sexual abuse. Also, females who admitted to experiencing reproductive coercion were four times more likely to also experience other forms of relationship abuse. And perhaps unsurprisingly, females who experience both reproductive coercion and relationship abuse were more likely to have a sexual partner five or more years older than them.
"These findings highlight how common reproductive coercion and other forms of abuse are in adolescent relationships, yet the signs of a teen's unhealthy relationship may be tricky for clinicians, parents and other adults to spot," McCauley notes.
She also offers up a suggestion for parents to "open the door for their teen to disclose abuse by having a conversation with them about healthy and unhealthy relationship behaviors, including those that interfere with their decision making about their own reproductive health."