New Brunswick’s growing teenage sexual health crisis

NB’s teen pregnancy rates are on the rise (Megan Cooke/AQ)
NB’s teen pregnancy rates are on the rise (Megan Cooke/AQ)

The sexual health of New Brunswick is once again being questioned as teenage pregnancy rates rose by 40 per cent between 2006 and 2010. This is according to a report released by the Sex Information and Education Council of Canada (SIECC) in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. The number of cases of sexually transmitted infections, especially chlamydia and syphilis, have also been on the rise in the province for years.

Julie Dingwell, executive director of AIDS Saint John, says in order to educate teenagers we need to normalize talking about sex and condom use. She says many New Brunswick high schools don’t even offer condoms.

“I would have to say that somehow we need to be doing some big work, not just around teen pregnancy but sexually transmitted infections and how people can be taking a little more time to be making sure young people are prepared with adequate information and that they have access to adequate resources,” Dingwell said.

Newfoundland and Nova Scotia also saw increases of 35.7 per cent and 17.4 per cent in the same time period. The national average only increased by 1.1 per cent.

The provincial government cut access for those between 20 and 24 to sexual health centres in 2011. The centres offered birth control and sexually transmitted infection tests.

“I think it’s interesting we’re getting this information as our sexual health centres in the province have in fact closed their doors to people between the ages of 20 and 24. So it’s a little crazy isn’t it?”

She says this information flies in the face of the idea that if teenagers have access to condoms or more information about sex they’ll go out and have sex when in fact we know that teenagers who have better information, typically delay the onset of sexual experiences. She also says we’re lucky this increase in teenage pregnancy isn’t an increase in new cases of HIV.

“We need to be asking ourselves do our kid have access to condoms and good sexual education and appropriate services they can drop into a sexual health centre and feel that they can have their questions and their needs addressed in a confidential and safe manner.”

Simone Leibovitch, manager of The Morgentaler Clinic, says they do between 650 and 700 abortions every year. Almost all of their patients are 19 years old or younger. Teenagers 16 years and under are around 20 per cent of their patients.

“What I have concluded in my years at the clinic, is that young women have surprisingly limited knowledge of birth control. That’s one thing but there are many contributing factors,” Leibovitch said.

Dingwell says there can also be bigger issues around why some young women may choose to become pregnant, especially in hard economic times. These factors may include increased poverty or access to education.

“I think sometimes people are feeling disenchanted, feel that they’re maybe never going to get a good job or that access to education is just not going to be part of their lives… If people are lonely and things aren’t going well sometimes they might think that well at least a baby will love me.”

“I think that we just have to open up the dialogue and be really open to talking to young people about sex.”

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