Teen birth rates are about one-third higher in rural counties than in urban centers and suburban counties, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That holds true for Troup County, which in 2012 had a birth rate of 26.1 for every 1,000 females ages 10-19, compared to Georgia’s average of 17.
It’s an issue near and dear to Drs. Margaret and Eugene Schaufler of West Georgia Gynecology & Primary Care in LaGrange, where they have served the medical needs of women for more than 30 years.
“Georgia has a higher rate of teen pregnancy than most states, for higher rates are generally seen in the Southern states,” Dr. Margaret Schaufler said. “And in Georgia, Troup County’s rates have dropped a very small percentage in the past several years, but they are still higher than those in most Georgia counties.
“Because we are no longer doing obstetrics in our practice, we are even more heavily focused on gynecology and the primary care needs of women. We see more teens now, many of whom are sexually active, and that gives us the opportunity to let them know about new contraceptives that are easier to use than traditional, tried-and-true methods.”
Though abstinence, of course, is the only sure-fire method of preventing conception of a baby, two new highly effective contraceptives called Nexplanon and Mirena are more than 99 percent effective in preventing pregnancy, Dr. Eugene Schaufler said. And, unlike a birth control pill, each can be implanted once during an office visit and is effective for three to five years.
Nexplanon is a small, soft and flexible implant about the size of a matchstick that a medical provider can place discreetly under the skin on the inside of one’s upper arm. It provides up to three years of pregnancy prevention with no more daily, weekly or monthly dosing routine and can be removed by a doctor at any time, he said.
Another alternative, Mirena, is a very small intrauterine device (IUD) made of soft, flexible plastic that is placed in the uterus by a healthcare provide during a routine office visit. It is effective for five years and can be removed at any time, he said.
A visit to a healthcare provider can determine if these contraceptive methods are the right ones for a particular individual. Each, of course, can have risks and side effects that can be explained by a medical provider.
“Preventing pregnancy is such a crucial issue in this community, and we want parents of teens to understand how important it is to protect them from pregnancies,” Dr. Margaret Schaufler said. “Many parents think that providing teens access to birth control methods will encourage them to be sexually active. But studies have shown time and again that this is not the case.”
The Schauflers encourage and discuss with their young patients the benefits of delaying sexual activity as well as the concept of secondary abstinence. They say that hearing this from a caring professional can be very meaningful and impactful to a teenager. But, they explain, if teens are sexually active, even though they use contraceptives, they are still at risk for sexually transmitted infections. Although not 100 percent effective at preventing STIs, condoms (male and female) are the best protection there is.
“You would not believe the high number of teens in Troup County who have contracted sexually transmitted diseases,” Dr. Margaret Schaufler said. “We especially see HPV, gonorrhea, chlamydia and trichomoniasis.”
Open communication between parents and teens is the key to helping protect teens from pregnancies and STDs.
“Teens may not use effective protection because they are simply too scared to say to their parents, ‘I need to go to the doctor’s office and talk about options,’ or they feel like they will always have the willpower to abstain,” Dr. Margaret Schaufler said. “But it is sometimes a relief and a help for a parent to say, ‘I know you don’t plan to be sexually active and I don’t think you will be, but it is my job to protect you. If you want to talk to a doctor, I will be glad to take you because I care about you, your health and your future.”