The real cause of unplanned pregnancy

As a Family Studies major, we’re asked to select a family population or issue (military families, LGBT families, alcoholism in families, etc.) to study for the semester and to apply what we’ve learned to our selected focus. I, of course, choose college-age moms as my population.

I’ve been researching all these efforts to curb unplanned pregnancy among 20somethings and it is increasingly clear to me that these researchers and activists have never faced an unplanned pregnancy, or been directly affected by one.

The research shows that the overwhelming majority of young adults would like their pregnancies to be planned. Yet, we don’t take precautions to prevent pregnancy.

As someone who had two unplanned pregnancies (yeah, just call me Ms. Super Responsible), I think I can speak to what’s going on. Walk with me, will you?

When you’re in love (shoot, when you’re in “like”), you literally crave that other person. It’s not (always) about making rational decisions and thinking of long-term consequences. You’re doing what feels good, what feels right, both emotionally and physically and you just roll the dice when it’s your turn to do the baby-making dance.

Because most people do not get pregnant the first time they have unprotected sex. As I’m learning from my friends, it’s not easy to get pregnant. It takes damn near perfect conditions to get the sperm to meet the egg and live happily ever after in the form of a bouncing baby.

So what happens when you have unprotected sex and don’t get pregnant? Somewhere, in the back of your mind, you think, “Well, I did it once, and it turned out okay.”

So what about the next time you’re not-quite-so-careful and still don’t get pregnant? That, my friends, is the beginning of a slippery slope.  

I know at a certain point, I assumed I couldn’t get pregnant. If you’ve been having regular sex for a year, and no babies pop out, you begin to think you’re invincible. It’s hard to get people to think about long-term reproductive planning if there’s no immediate consequences for doing otherwise.

(To be clear, I did use birth control methods, but not correctly. That stupid Patch was breaking me out and making me so incredibly itchy that I’d go through three a week, when you’re only supposed to use three per month…. And now that you’ve gone on a lovely tour of my uterus…let’s continue the blog post.)

You know what finally motivated me to take control of my fertility (something I’m almost ashamed to admit)? The birth of my second child.  Not my first kid. But my second kid. Meaning, I had to stare down a positive pregnancy test twice, had to go to countless prenatal visits twice, had to do the birthing classes and mad dash for baby stuff, and pay for two kids in daycare before I finally hopped on that exam table and told my OB/GYN to give the best birth control method he had. Oh, and could he tie my tubes for good measure?

We’ve got to do better but I know how it is. I’ve been there (twice). And I think this background, this personal experience will serve me well.


  1. I think its a matter of not REALLY making a conscious choice not to get pregnant. Its simple if you REALLY don’t wanna be pregnant you will take every preacaution possible.If you failed on birth control use a condom. Use a condom and have him pull out! Lol. We do get very comfortable when we have unprotected sex. We think we have it under control and I’m very guilty of this. However I’ve made a choice not to live by default and I am taking whatever precautions I can to not be preggers even if I have to sacrafice sex for a little while. Hell I’m tracking my ovulation and will not engage during that time. I’m so serious. As an adult I now know what I want and can speak up for it and I say another baby will not work for me and nothing short of god himself will get me pregnant. Think about it, if u knew(not I think my partners safe)but knew there was a REAL possibility of aids rather a baby(life in jeapordy). U would not slip.

    • @Leah – I completely agree. Kudos to you for taking precautions and know what you want and don’t want.

  2. I think I may have fallen down that slippery slope for a second time. (We still dont know yet) If there is a 2nd one on the way, right after the birth Im jumping on some kind of BC. I should have done it after my first, but I just didnt think it would happen to me again. (Yeah, not smart thinking I know)

  3. I totally agree with you, Tara. It is definitely a slippery slope. The thing that made me take my birth control seriously was NOT the TWO pregnancy scares that I had prior to actually getting pregnant, but it was my ACTUAL pregnancy. After going through actually being pregnant and having a baby and not being where I wanted to be in life to have the baby, I made a conscious choice to use my birth control wisely. But it was AFTER all of that!
    Yes, we DO have to do better… and YES, your personal experience will certainly help you!
    .-= alicia´s last blog ..Weekend Reads =-.

  4. Yup. The word “craving” is so true, it’s like magnetic force (where is that in my marriage now?!). Such a great post, that is exactly why my husband and I are where we are today…that slippy slope. And yet…I still had two unplanned pregnancies as a teenager. We are definitely getting on birth control after this baby is born! Which, by the way is something we can talk about on our face to face meeting 😀 Yay, dinner or coffee and birth control talk LOL

  5. I work in public health and I’ve done a lot of work on condom decision-making and I still find it fascinating. You’ve hit the nail on the head with the slippery slope argument. If you do it once and nothing happens, there is no ‘real-life’ reason to think that you’re any more likely to get pregnant the next time. The effect of ‘experience’ is cumulative, so the longer you go on playing russian roulette without a consequence, the more you feel invincible. The same goes for what our friends tell us. If you think all your friends are playing the game with no consequence, then why should you be different? Why would you get pregnant, whilst your friend sails on scott free?

    The irony of my situation is that a few weeks before realising I was pregnant, I told my Mum ‘in this day and age, if you dont want to get preg and have a baby, you simply will not get preg. And if you do get pregnant and you dont want to have a baby, then you wont’. Despite our unplanned pregnancy, I still totally stick by my theory! : )

    Keep up the good work Tara! LOVING it! This sounds totally geeky, but I’d love to read your research when you’re done xx

    .-= Mrs O´s last blog ..A Wifes Responsibilities in Marriage =-.

  6. I totally agree. I’m evaluating a community safer sex project for young people at the moment and the staff say that this is a common issue. Girls don’t get pregnant the first time and then maybe not the second time and some then start to worry about their fertility as they are TOLD that if you have unsafe sex you WILL get pregnant (which they assume is straight away). My own mother told me this and I didn’t the first time….but the second time I managed to proved her right! (although for some reason this didn’t please her!) Scare tactics need to be replaced by actual facts…being ‘lucky’ once does not mean your invincible!

    • @prymface – Exactly! I know so many 19 and 20-year-olds who claimed, “I thought I was infertile!” Well, of course you would if you’ve been having sex and not getting pregnant. Until I had some deep conversations with my friends who are having a hard time getting pregnant, I honestly didn’t think it was that hard to get pregnant. But it all comes down to timing, basically, especially for younger women.

      I like the approach that the Massachussetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy takes. They talk about DELAYING parenthood, focusing on making appropriate choices in the interim. We need to talk about options. I don’t mind encouraging abstinence, but we also need to know what we can do to protect ourselves, and make self-esteem and choices for the future part of that discussion.

  7. ::steps in, looks around, and places “I thought I was infertile too” badge on::

    I seriously considered the possibility that I might be infertile. My particular circumstances go a little deeper than just being young and inexperienced (abuse, pregnancy control), but I can definitely say that I believed the hype. Although I did not want to get pregnant, I started to believe that maybe something was wrong with my reproductive system. My first shot of Depro was enough to wake my hormones up! I completely agree Tara, that we desperately need to know the facts. About how the female reproductive system truly operates, about all the ways that we can prevent pregnancy, and the self-esteem bit is a huge part of that. Along with getting all the facts, we need advocates. Young women who are in relationships need advocates so that they/we will have the tools to recognize unhealthy situations and get out of them before life changing events occur.

  8. I think in sexual education courses, hormonal birth control should be stressed to young women just as much if not more than condoms.I think the focus is always on using a condom to avoid STDs which is important, but pregnancy always comes as an afterthought- as in you should be using a condom anyway so it won’t be an issue. But when you have been in a monogamous relationship for long enough, right or wrong STDs stop being as big of a concern. Once the condom doesn’t happen that first time, it eventually stops happening and then that cycle of “I can’t get pregnant” begins.
    I also think the type of birth control matters as well. I would probably stress that young women get on some type of long term( depo, implant) birth control because even though I was on the pill when I got pregnant with my first I wasn’t always taking it right. Even at 30 yrs. old I realize I’m not responsible enough to remember a pill every day (hooray Mirena IUD!)

  9. Great post! Sooo very true. It is a slippery slope! Our 2nd baby is planned, but our 1st was a surprise.

  10. Counselor says:

    While I think it is great that you women are thinking very clearly about the many aspects of sex and birth control, I see another side every day. In my personal life, my aunt and uncle had all 5 of their children on birth control. And they were very careful! Now, in my work as a counselor for women experiencing unplanned pregnancies, I see about 50% of the women I work with whose birth control failed. Nothing is 100% effective. Maybe someday we will come up with a drug that works, but for now I have to tell women “sorry, you’re pregnant.” And the women who are on birth control immediately have a higher risk for contracting a STD. Please remember, with sex come kids. Period.

  11. I am also apart of the group. I had an “unplanned” baby w/ my bf who now is my ex. I feel that as woman as stated, we take that lil bit of “talk” that’s being whispered in our ear. We really are blinded by “like” and mistake it for love. I’m paying the price for my “blindness” right now. It honestly hurts, it doesn’t feel good to do it all by urself. But I do believe what doesn’t kill me makes me smarter & wiser. I made a promise to myself n god to NEVER have & “unplanned” child again. This is good. I needed to vent alil bit.