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World Contraception Day | #WCD2015 | #AFriendOfMine

This post also appeared on Healthy Teen Network.

I think if you have a child at a young age, not many people are able to be successful and finish their high school years. Moms, they have their child and they choose to stay home with their child and that causes them to drop out of school and they cannot have a successful life. They are dedicating themselves to their child, which is not a bad thing, but education is always better, to have a better life…” -Program Participant

With nearly half of the world’s population under the age of 25, the future holds extraordinary opportunities for the world’s economic growth, reduction in poverty and overall increased quality of life. Despite this promise, young people face significant social and economic barriers to accessing sexual and reproductive health information and services, demonstrated by high levels of unplanned pregnancy and incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. In the United States, approximately half of all new STIs occur in young people between the ages of 15 and 24, and roughly a quarter million teens give birth, most of which are unplanned. These outcomes inhibit young people from living up to their full potential and optimally contributing to society.

Adolescents’ sexual health must be promoted and respected by providing access to comprehensive sexuality education, health services, and family planning counseling. Take this a step further—it’s not just about giving youth access to information and services, it’s also about inviting and valuing their participation in designing communication campaigns and youth-friendly health services, telling policymakers what they as youth need, and being a part of accountability systems to make sure their needs are being met.

Concerted efforts are needed to empower young people to be aware of and exercise their own rights, including their right to knowledge about and how to access contraception and health services, and their right to make their own informed, autonomous choices about their bodies and their sexuality. This is a key aspect of empowerment, particularly in the United States, as we may be the only country where sex education is actually just about the biology of sex. We have to not just teach young people about sex, but help them gain self-confidence, express their opinions, develop a positive body image, and talk positively and without shame about sex and relationships.

September 26 is World Contraception Day (WCD), a worldwide campaign centered on the vision of a world where every pregnancy is wanted. You can raise awareness about contraception and safe sex to enable young people to make informed choices on their sexual and reproductive health by engaging youth, parents, community leaders, health care providers, governments, and others in addressing these four key priorities:  

1.       Knowledge is power.
2.       Practicing safe sex saves lives.
3.       Sex is not just about reproduction.
4.       Equality and empowerment are key.
 
Begin by getting the conversation started, and then keep it going—there are many fun and easy ways to do so. Consider creating a listicle (the truth about contraception in 10 simple facts), develop fact sheets and infographics, create empowering door-hanger statements for girls (“I am the boss of me!”), post memes, video-blog a day in the life of a teen mom or dad, host a “first times” radio advice special, or write a press release and then share it widely. Want some more help? Go to http://www.your-life.com/ for tips, tricks, and memes to help you spread the word.