Approximately one in eight sexually active high school girls have experienced reproductive coercion in the last three months, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.
Reproductive coercion is a type of relationship abuse where a woman or girl is pressured, tricked or forced to become pregnant.
The study, which looked at more than 500 high school girls in Northern California, finds that teens experiencing this abuse don’t seek out medical resources in the same way that women do. Previous research shows that adults who are reproductively coerced are more likely to request emergency contraception, or tests for pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.
Relationship abuse leads to other physical and mental health issues, such as depression and suicide, said lead author Amber Hill, a Pitt medical student and researcher. Therefore it’s incumbent on health care providers to proactively screen for this coercion.
“We can’t rely on our instincts to decide who is affected and who isn’t affected," said Hill. "[We] just need to talk to everybody about this issue."
Researchers also looked at the racial breakdown of the study volunteers. They found that 15 percent of sexually active black and Latino high school girls experienced reproductive coercion, compared to four percent of white girls.
Hill said these racial disparities warranted further investigation, “to see if these differences potentially help explain some of the persistent disparities we see in sexual and reproductive health among women and girls of color.”
Understanding these disparities, she said, might lead to better interventions.
The study was published in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.
WESA receives funding from the University of Pittsburgh.