Girls in the study who wanted to become pregnant were almost four times as likely to have a partner who was at least five years older than themselves. They were also twice as likely to report feelings of low self-esteem and low family support, and twice as likely to feel that their partner would disapprove of using condoms.
Each of these factors could be influenced by behavioral intervention, which may make them "important aspects to consider when designing programs to reduce the risk of pregnancy among African-American adolescent females," say Susan L. Davies, Ph.D., of the University of Alabama at Birmingham and colleagues.
For the study, the researchers surveyed and interviewed 462 sexually active black teen girls between 14 and 18 years old living in low-income Birmingham neighborhoods. Forty percent of the participants had a previous pregnancy, but girls who wanted to become pregnant were less likely to report a past pregnancy.
Davies and colleagues suggest that these girls may experience a power imbalance in their sexual relationships, since their boyfriend's age and perceived reluctance to use condoms have such a significant effect on the girls' pregnancy wishes. This may mean that adolescent boys would be a good target for early pregnancy prevention programs, according to the researchers.
Although factors like self-esteem were not as strongly associated with pregnancy desires, "other studies suggest that early parenthood is perceived by some adolescents as an opportunity to heal childhood wounds, receive support from family members or obtain emotional closeness not found at home," say the researchers.
The researchers acknowledge that their study does not address whether the girls' desire to become pregnant may influence how their boyfriends think about pregnancy, or cause them to choose older sex partners.
The study appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Health Behavior, and was supported in part by grants from the Center for Mental Health Research on AIDS, National Institute of Mental Health and the Association of Teachers of Preventive Medicine/CDC STD Prevention Fellowship.
By Becky Ham, Staff Writer
Health Behavior News Service
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