This Week in Sex: A Comprehensive Approach to Unintended Pregnancy, Mandated Breastfeeding, and Sex After Breaking Up


This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.

Lessons From the UK on Reducing Unintended Teen Pregnancies

Sexuality educators and public health experts have long argued that reducing unintended teen pregnancy rates takes an all-hands-on-deck approach—one that combines sexuality education, contraceptive access, and public education. One town in the United Kingdom, which was once considered the “teen conception” capital of England, has done just this and has seen a 42 percent drop in teen pregnancy over the last decade.

In 1998, 218 teens under age 18 in Swindon gave birth, but by 2011-2012 the number was down to 118. The teen pregnancy rate (referred to in the UK as the teen conception rate) dropped to 25.2 per 1,000 young women under 18, which is lower than the national rate for England of 29.4 per 1,000 young women.

This sharp drop is largely credited to a community-wide effort to educate young people about contraception and give them access to methods. The Swindon Health Centre holds dedicated clinics each week for those under 20, but more than that, outreach nurses visit young people at home, school, and college. Resources have also been dedicated to making long-acting reversible contraceptive methods (LARCs), such as intrauterine devices (IUDs) and implants, available, as these methods are the most effective in preventing pregnancy.

Schools are also playing an important role. Sex education has been prioritized and school nurses have been drafted into the efforts. Nurses work to connect young people to outside services, but they also provide education and advice as well as emergency contraception and condoms.

This is the kind of holistic approach that communities here in the United States should be trying, and while some are, all too often such efforts (especially those that make condoms and contraception available at school) become controversial and are cancelled because of misplaced fears that they will increase sexual behavior.

United Arab Emirates Mandates Breastfeeding

The United Arab Emirates’ Federal National Council has passed a clause to a child rights law requiring new mothers to breastfeed for a full two years. The clause allows men to sue their wives if they don’t breastfeed.

The benefits of breastfeeding, especially in the newborn phase, are well-known and widely accepted. Most major medical associations around the world, including the World Health Organization, recommend breastfeeding and call on governments to make policies that support women in their efforts to do so. These organizations do not, however, suggest that women be forced to breastfeed.

The law is said to apply only to women who can breastfeed, but it is unclear who makes that determination for individual women. It states that women who are prohibited from nursing for health reasons will be provided with a wet nurse, but some critics have questioned how this arrangement will work, practically speaking. It is also not yet known whether the rule will mean that formula—which many mothers rely on either instead of or in addition to breast milk—is no longer legally sold in the country.

In an editorial in The National, a local breastfeeding advocacy group expressed concern over the law:

As a group we wholeheartedly agree that breastfeeding should be encouraged and that the sentiment is a good one that clearly follows international guidelines. However, as many of the new mothers we encounter are already under significant pressure, we are concerned that enacting a law that leaves mothers facing potential punishment could be a step too far.

It goes on to say:

It is our opinion that, while encouraging women to breastfeed is a laudable aim, it is by supporting those who can and want to breastfeed, and not by punishing those who can’t, that we will reap the benefits we all want to see in our society.

I expressed a similar opinion in an article for RH Reality Check after a British program announced plans to monetarily reward low-income women who breastfeed for six months. We should encourage breastfeeding with supportive policies and practices, but we should not make women feel guilty for making another choice, and we certainly should not punish them for it.

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do, So College Students Turn to Sex 

new study looks at sex after breakups. Researchers asked 170 University of Missouri students who had recently ended serious relationships to keep an online daily journal of their distress levels, their self-esteem, and their sex lives for one semester. Two-thirds of the newly single students reporting having sex during the ten-week study. Of those, 54 percent had sex with someone else they had hooked up with in the past, 26 percent had sex with someone totally new, and 20 percent had sex with their ex. Those who had sex cited both getting over their ex and getting back at him/her as their motivation, but soothing sadness was more common than revenge. The study also found that those who were most distressed by the breakup (often those who were broken up with) were more likely to have sex as were those who were just out of relationships that lasted more than a year.

There is a little bit of good news for the romantics out there, especially those who are fond of sex with their ex: Some participants had to drop out of the study because after having rebound sex with their ex, they got back together.

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Follow Martha Kempner on twitter: @MarthaKempner