TEEN SEX: Girl Athletes Less Likely To Become Pregnant
A new nationwide survey has found that female athletes "were less than half as likely to get pregnant as female non-athletes," the Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer reports (5/14). Not only were girls who play sports less likely to get pregnant, they were more likely to be virgins and more likely to use contraception when they did have sex than girls who did not play sports, according to a Women's Sports Foundation study. "Sports are a cultural resource that builds girls' confidence, sense of physical empowerment and social recognition within the school and community," the study authors wrote. "Girls may be using the self-reliance and social status gained through athletic participation to resist social pressures to exchange sex for approval or popularity," they continued.
The Bergen Record notes that the report shows a "correlation, not a causal relationship, between sports and more prudent sexual behavior by girls," a connection long noted by experts, parents and coaches. "We found that sports has a unique and much stronger effect for girls even than other extracurricular activities," said the study's co-author, Kathleen Miller, a University of Buffalo sociology associate. "The bottom line, Miller and others say, is that sports offer teenage girls a route to social status other than the one typically available to them: sexual attractiveness to boys" (Padawer, 5/14). "We cannot say ultimately it (sports activities) reduces pregnancy, but we strongly suspect that it does," Miller said (Rosenberg, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/14).
Too Busy Playing Sports
The Dallas Morning News reports that the results were based on the findings of two separate studies: one conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that studied 11,000 high school students (ages 14 through 18) and another conducted by the New York State Research Institute on Addiction that studied 699 western New York families (Thomas/Kruh, 5/14). The Scripps Howard News/Washington Times reports that, according to WSF, by the time females reach age 20, four out of every 10 have become pregnant at least once. But for high school girls who play sports, five percent have become pregnant, compared with 11% of their non-sports- playing counterparts. Fifty-four percent of teen female athletes say they are virgins, while only 41% of non-athletes say they are. And girls who play sports also wait longer to lose their virginity -- 15% of non-athlete girls say they had their first sexual intercourse between the ages of 10 and 13, while 8% of those who play sports say the same.
But when they do become sexually active, female athletes engage in less sex, have fewer partners and take less risks. Almost 50% of typical high schools girls say they've had sex four or more times in the past year, while only 30% of girls who play sports reported the same (5/14). Thirty-seven percent of non-athletes reported having had two or more partners, while only 29% of athletes did. And 87% of sexually active athletes said they used some form of birth control during their last sexual encounter, compared with 80% of non-athletes who reported doing the same (Dallas Morning News, 5/14).
Snakes And Snails And Puppydog Tails
The Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer reports that the study found that sports had the opposite effect in boys' lives. It found that "if anything, male athletes were more likely to have sex" than non-athletes. "In contrast to girls, boys' experiences in sports seem to have been an extension of gender expectations surrounding manhood and sexuality. We found that male athletes became sexually active earlier in adolescence than non-athletes," the authors wrote (5/14). The Record reports that the difference in boys and girls may be because "sports offer girls an alternative to traditional notions of femininity," while they "provide a traditional training ground for masculinity, where sexual contest is reinforced."
Confidence Not Condoms
In terms of pregnancy prevention, Bill Albert, spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said the study shows that teenagers "need positive, attractive alternatives." He said, "For too long in this country, we've believed that to prevent pregnancy, it's either abstinence or handing out condoms on the street" (5/14). WSF spokesperson Paula Hunt said, "When girls participate in sports, it helps their self-esteem. They learn how to set goals, to have discipline and to play on a team." She continued, "Sports isn't this unique experience that stays on the playing fields. It helps girls make healthy decisions about their lives." The Dallas Morning News reports the study made several "policy recommendations," one of which was "asking coaches to include information about sexual behavior when talking to athletes" (5/14).