peer pressure (1)BRIDGETOWN, Barbados, Nov 27 – One of the main contributing factors to teenage pregnancy is the early age at which girls begin their sexual experiences, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). And it’s no secret that one of the reasons many young girls begin engaging in sexual activity before they’re mentally, emotionally – and even physically – prepared, is peer pressure. Just ask Lisa.

The outspoken and often cantankerous teen was the leader of a small clique of girls at her secondary school and considered herself a leader, not a follower. But at home, it was a different story.

Lisa was the “baby” in a household that included four older cousins. Two of them, with whom she had a very close relationship, openly discussed their sexual experiences and eventually questioned her about when she planned to “become a woman”.

She initially dismissed the question, but as the prodding continued over a course of several weeks, she started to wonder if she was really missing out. Eventually, just days before her 16th birthday, she began experimenting with sex. After engaging in unprotected sex for several months, she became pregnant.

A comprehensive study on adolescent health in the Caribbean among nearly 16,000 adolescents of nine countries in the region concluded that 34.1 per cent (22.2 per cent male and 51.9 per cent female) has had sexual intercourse before the age of 19.

What’s more, 63.4 per cent of those children – 40.3 per cent male and 78 per cent female – had their first sexual encounter before the age of 12.

peer pressure (2)Studies carried out in the Caribbean have found that peer pressure is, in fact, a factor in teenagers deciding whether to have sex.

“Youth who perceived their friends to be sexually active and those who felt their friends would make fun of them if they did not have sex were more likely to be sexually active,” the UNFPA said of the studies.

It is against this background that the Fund highlights that finding adequate approaches for delaying sexual debut and, in the case of consenting and sexually active adolescents, for providing access to information and sexual and reproductive health services, are crucial.