Michigan State University has published a study showing that teens are not only being pressured into sexual activity but are experiencing reproductive coercion in which they are being unwillingly forced to try having children with their partners.
Researchers shockingly found that in the past three months, 1 in 8 females experienced the abuse. Heather McCauley, assistant professor in the School of Social Work, found that the abuse included partners secretly poking holes in condoms and getting angry when the females refused to have unprotected intercourse.
The study, which followed 550 females between the ages of 14 and 19 who were sexually active, was carried out by collecting data from eight health clinics in California. Published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, it is said to be the most comprehensive study on adolescent female reproductive coercion.
McCauley and the other researchers aimed to note the differences between adolescents versus adult women by creating a study that was focused solely on teens and that differentiated between the two groups. McCauley explains that it's important for health professionals to be able to recognize the signs that an adolescent girl is in a troubling relationship because those signs could be very different from what adult women in similar situations would show.
To carry out the study, McCauley and the other researchers opened the doors for new learning in terms of prevention, recognition and treatment for teens affected by the abuse. McCauley explains that "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."
McCauley says that she and the other researchers found no difference between teens affected by the abuse and teens who were unaffected, showing that the danger signs may not present themselves to clinicians. McCauley says the only sure way of knowing whether a teenage girl is suffering is to have an open conversation with them about the effect of relationships on their overall well-being.
The research also showed no difference in the frequency of abuse and race/ethnicity, even though previous research has indicated otherwise. It did show, however, that 17% of teens report physical/sexual abuse, females affected by reproductive coercion were four times more likely to suffer other forms of abuse, and those affected were most likely with older partners.
The main takeaway from the research findings was that parents and health practitioners need to be more proactive in recognizing their teens are suffering. Having open conversations about health and sexuality, in addition to relationships, can encourage teens to disclose abuse – which they may not even recognize as abuse themselves.