A Sex Educator’s Role in reducing unplanned pregnancy?

Okay so my twitter conversations this week yielded two blog posts- One “A sex educators role as a role model” and this one ” A Sex Educator’s Role in reducing unplanned pregnancy?”.

Apparently a sex educators main job should be reducing unplanned pregnancy (especially illegitimacy) according to one particular tweeter (I’m paraphrasing but that was the gist). I disagreed somewhat but in 140 characters it can be difficult to explore properly so I decided to write this blogpost to help me clarify my own feelings on this as a sex educator.

Firstly let’s think about what unplanned pregnancy actually is- it’s a sperm meeting an egg, being fertilised and implanting in a woman’s womb and developing. It may be caused by a failure of contraception (product failure or user failure)  or lack of contraception (which maybe an “accidental consenual type action” eg. getting carried away, lack of knowledge and understanding etc) or a deliberate non-consensual action- ie. coercion or deceit by one partner or rape).  Unplanned pregnancies happen. ALOT.   Virtually anyone who is sexually active with someone of the opposite sex is going to be running a risk of an unplanned pregnancy every single time they have sex. After all THERE IS NO METHOD OF CONTRACEPTION THAT IS 100% EFFECTIVE (but there are some pretty good ones out there with very low failure rates and you can find out about them all here ).  In fact given that in a lifetime 1 in 3 women are likely to have an abortion it suggests that unplanned pregnancy is incredibly common (and that obviously that figure doesn’t include stats for unplanned pregnancies that are born or miscarried- In fact judging from this report from U.S I’d estimate that maybe 1 in 2 women will have an unintended pregnancy in their lifetime).

Now let’s consider why society might want to reduce unplanned pregnancies?   (I asked Twitter #Hivemind for reasons and these are some of the things we came up with- many thanks to @Edforchoice, @Caught_intheAct, @Johnny_Rat)

  • To reduce number of abortions?
  • To meet government targets? (eg. Teenage pregnancy strategy)
  • To reduce population rate?
  • For societal benefit- eg. reducing cycle of poverty?
  • Because actively choosing to be a parent is potentially more positive than passively/accidently choosing to be a parent (also in terms of impact on relationships)
  • To fit into some moral or value judgement? (eg. teenage mothers are bad)
  • To support people so that they don’t have to go through the potentially difficult pregnancy decision making process which could be mentally traumatic

N.B. Shouldn’t  it be more about reducing unwanted pregnancies  rather than those that were technically unplanned but continued as was the right choice for them?

Now looking at that list of reasons I need to think carefully about which ones I would ascribe to as a sex educator? Personally  I see my role as supporting people with knowledge, understanding and skills to make informed positive choices about their own lives, and to be  honest the notion of “reducing unplanned pregnancy”  maybe imbuing sex educators with some powers I don’t think we necessarily have!? Let me explain further:  I feel a sex educators role should obviously focus on general education about fertility, the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, contraceptive choices etc. as well as support with contraceptive decision making and pregnancy decision making in cases of unplanned pregnancy (be it have the baby, adoption or abortion).  Imparting this level of knowledge, understanding and skills, may lead to a reduction in unplanned pregnancies but equally it may not- simply due to the way life works- fate or whatever (it’s not like my role is swooping in and stopping the condom from breaking at the crucial moment like some kind of Contraception Guardian Angel!) .  I think the main thing is we do educate about unplanned pregnancy to empower people with knowledge, understanding and skills to deal with the situation in a way that is best for them. Proving whether this has an effect on reducing unplanned pregnancy is obviously rather hard to do given the myriad of situations that can give rise to an unplanned pregnancy, which is why I wouldn’t necessarily say it was explicitly in my job description.  (Although I would probably say my job description includes educating about ideas that could potentially contribute to reducing unplanned pregnancies.)

Personally the notion of society planning on reducing unplanned pregnancies is one I can be a little uncomfortable with in the way it is carried out even with the best of intentions.  I used to sit in on teenage pregnancy partnership board meetings and one issue bounced around was:  “meeting targets to get “LAC’s onto LARCS” (Looked after children onto long acting reversible contraceptives)”, because as a demographic Looked After Children are much more like to face an unplanned pregnancy and this was seen as a way of reducing that.  This made me feel quite uncomfortable- it felt somewhat dictatorial or even smacked slightly of eugenics? , I was worried about what free choices these young people were being able to make if people supporting them were pushing an agenda onto them to meet a target. What these young people really needed was proper support, housing, finances, education etc. as well as proper informed consent for their contraceptive choices.  As it happened those interventions were also being put into place for these young people and this “LARC’s for LAC’s” target. was a a small part of a whole range of strategies aimed at supporting young people to meet the ECM agenda,  but as a strategy it was one I felt somewhat uncomfortable with (not least because LARC’s don’t protect from STI’s and the focus was all about the pregnancy prevention seemingly rather than the mental and physical health of the individual.)  But then that’s targets and local government for you, but it clarifies why I personally am uncomfortable in being cast as having a “role in reducing unplanned pregnancy” as I am not entirely sure  that is really should be explicitly my role!?


P.S If I don’t reply to comments immediately it is possibly because I am giving birth/looking after a newborn! Haha


3 thoughts on “A Sex Educator’s Role in reducing unplanned pregnancy?

  1. Pingback: A sex educators role as a “role model” | SexEdUKation

  2. Hi Alice,

    Interesting blog and you make good points about the difficulty of acting as some sort of ‘unplanned pregnancy prevention machine’!

    Would question this sentence as it’s a tad heteronormative: ‘Virtually anyone who is sexually active (which in adults is probably a fairly high proportion of the community!) is going to be running a risk of an unplanned pregnancy every single time they have sex’

    Keep up the good work, and go and have yourself a rest!


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