‘We have to teach them that pregnancy is not a set outcome of something pleasurable. What we want [these teenagers] to realize the responsibility that is a gift given to those who are bound to each other for a lifetime.”—Dr. Jean S. Tay, director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Davao Doctors Hospital
Her classmates were caught unaware. She passed them and went straight to the national highway—walking as if she was under the influence of drugs. Everyone screamed when a speeding vehicle came to her way. It was good that the driver was able to stop before he hit her.
At the school principal’s office, she was interrogated. “I am three months pregnant,” the 17-year-old high-school student said. The principal was further stunned when he found out that the father was much younger—only 16 years old.
In Western countries like the United States, teen pregnancy may not surprise anyone at all. But in a developing country like the Philippines, it may come as a shock—particularly among priests and religious leaders. “From time to time, we always emphasized that premarital sex is morally wrong.” a Catholic priest said.
The bad news is: Teen pregnancy in the country is increasing. “We are the highest in terms of number over the decade,” Gabriela Women Party-list Rep. Luz Ilagan answered when asked by reporters during the regular Kapehan sa Dabaw at SM City recently. “The ratio of teenage pregnancy in the country is on the rise.”
Teenage pregnancy happens when a woman, who is less than 19 years old, becomes pregnant. About 13.6 percent of Filipino girls aged 15 to 19 are pregnant.
In the Asia-Pacific region, the Philippines is the only country where the rate of teen pregnancies rose over the last two decades, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) noted in its recent report.
A recent survey—with 4,111 youth respondents—found out that the average age at which first sexual intercourse is experience is 15.7 years old. Males experienced earlier sexual initiation than females (15.5 years vs. 16.7 years). On the average, sexually active adolescents have 3.5 sexual partners.
The sexual experience of the youth ranges from oral sex to penile-vaginal intercourse and anal sex. Penile-vaginal sex comprises of the majority of these sexual experiences. Of those who have been sexually active, 49 percent have engaged in oral sex (either as recipient or giver). Anal sex was experienced by almost a quarter of those who are sexually active. Sex with the same gender was experienced by 23 percent of all sexually active respondents.
But why do these teenagers engaged in sex early in life? Curiosity was the main reason cited why they lost their virginity. Love was the second reason, while aroused feelings came third. Five percent of the respondents said they were forced to have sex the first time while 3 percent did it in exchange for food and/or money.
Although not too many Filipino youngsters admitted it, experts consider peer pressure as one of the reasons why female teenagers are engaged in sex early in life. This is especially common among girls who feel unpopular among their peers. “For many young adolescents, having a steady boyfriend is vital to their self-esteem,” explains Dr. Marita McCabe, professor of psychology at Deakin University’s Toorak campus in Melbourne. “They feel they must also have sex with their boyfriends to be accepted by their peer group. They are under enormous pressure to conform.”
The aforementioned survey, which was conducted by the Health Action Information Network (HAIN), found that peer pressure is stronger among males. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable with my friends if I was still a virgin,” said 18-year-old Mark, who had his first sexual experience when he was 15. “I probably couldn’t say anything about sex if I had not experienced it myself.”
The survey showed that most of these youngsters lost their virginity to the person they loved (boyfriend or girlfriend). When asked about the circumstances surrounding their first engagement in sex, more than half (54 percent) said they wanted it to happen at that time, while 38 percent claimed that their first sexual experience just happened.
“My boyfriend asked me if I loved him and I said yes,” 16-year-old Linda said. “He said that if I really loved him, I had to prove it by giving myself to him completely. I didn’t want to lose him so I had to give in to his wishes.” Six months later after “the sex encounter” happened—and pregnant!—her boyfriend dumped her for another girl.
About 4 percent of the 143 female respondents have been pregnant with the average age of first pregnancy being 17. Among males, 2 percent reported that they have gotten a woman pregnant. “This disparity could mean that women, being the first to know if they are pregnant, are more inclined to admit their condition than boys,” the HAIN report explained. “On the other hand, boys may not be aware that their sexual experiences had resulted in pregnancy.”
Studies conducted by the World Bank from 2000 to 2003 ranked the Philippines as one of the top 10 countries with an increasing number of teenage mothers. Seven out of 10 Filipina mothers are adolescents; most of them are below 19 years old.
“It is unlikely that a sexually active teenager will settle with a single partner for life,” says Dr. Mildred R. Yutuc, an obstetrician-gynecologist from Caloocan City. In fact, there are some girls who claim that they engage in casual sex with acquaintances.
In her more than two decades of medical practice, Yutuc seldom encounters sexually active teenage patients until in the past three years. “I have observed that the number of single mothers who ask for help regarding sex-related problems gets younger,” she says.
“Sex outside of marriage with multiple partners has consequences,” Yutuc writes in an article which appeared in Health and Home. “And when the girl is only in her teens, the consequences are truly serious.”
In an article which appeared in Health and Lifestyle, author Ma. Vanessa L. Estinozo quoted Dr. Jean S. Tay, director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Davao Doctors Hospital, who enumerated some factors on why teenage girls are most likely to get pregnant: “If they are living together with their boyfriend, they are out of school, their parents are separated or one is overseas, they engage in sex at a young age and/or if they use condoms improperly.”
On the latter, Tay pointed out that “the risk of teen pregnancy increases 11.6 times with the use of condoms.” As such, she believes “sexual abstinence” as “the more effective and rightful solution.”
In premature sex, pregnancy is not the only risk. There is also the peril of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, which can result in chronic infection, infertility or, in the case of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), death.
According to the Geneva-based World Health Organization, teenagers who get pregnant below 16 years of age are more likely to die from child birth. This happens because the mother and the baby are not screened well or didn’t undergo pre-natal care checkup.
Engaging in adolescent sex can also be physically damaging for the female, according to Dr. Lyra Ruth Clemente-Chua, chairman of the women’s advocacy committee of the Philippine Obstetrics and Gynecologic Society. “The nature of the teenager’s cervix is that, at this stage, its cells are not yet well-protected, thus sex can mean exposing the cervix to traumas.”