4 Ways to Assess Boys’ and Young Men’s Risk of Getting Someone Pregnant

Young men playing basketball.

Young men who got someone pregnant had a lot of factors in common—not just one or two—in a study we recently wrote about. The cross-sectional study looked at a whopping 41 factors in young men’s lives, including the number of people they’d had sex with, their age when they’d had sex for the first time, and the grade they’d reached in school.

Most studies focus on how individual factors affect the outcome of adolescent pregnancy, says lead author Dr. May Lau, a professor and pediatrician at the University of Texas Southwestern.

“They may not represent the whole picture,” she explained. Her research team used a research method called recursive partitioning analysis, or RPA, to look at how strongly clusters of factors, rather than individual factors on their own, are associated with a young man’s likelihood of getting someone pregnant. 

"It is possible that an individual factor may not be associated with adolescent pregnancy [when studied on its own], but when looking at the factor in a cluster it is associated with adolescent pregnancy," Dr. Lau says.

One limitation of the study is that it doesn’t tell us when the factors happened in relation to the pregnancy. So for example, boys reported whether they’d been tested for STDs at some point in their lives. The researchers could not tell if the young men had gotten their tests before or after they learned their partners were pregnant.

Still, this is one of few adolescent pregnancy prevention studies in which boys are the focus. Therefore, its findings are valuable for anyone in a position to help young men prevent pregnancy.

Most studies of adolescent pregnancy prevention focus on adolescent females; boys and young men have historically not been the focus of such studies, Dr. Lau says.

We talked to Dr. Lau to find out what she wants sexual health educators and other family and youth workers to take away from her research.  Here are a few steps you can take, based on what Dr. Lau’s team found:

  1. Ask young men if they’ve gotten tested for HIV. Having ever been tested for HIV was associated with higher pregnancy rates (with the caveat that the researchers couldn’t tell if the testing happened before or after the pregnancy). If you know a young man has been tested for HIV (or if you are helping him to get tested), be sure to talk to him about safe sex.
  2. Make sure youth get sex education by 9th grade. Regardless of whether their age matched their grade in school, boys who received their first sex education course at 10th grade or higher were among those at highest risk for pregnancy involvement, representing 84 percent of the teen dads or pregnancy-involved young men. What this means is that all adolescent males who don’t receive sexuality education until 10th grade or later are at risk of adolescent pregnancy, not just those who drop out of, or are held back from, school.
  3. Work to change young men’s attitudes toward using condoms. Boys and young men with negative condom attitudes were less likely to use condoms, and had higher pregnancy prevalence. “No one really asks adolescent males why they don’t use condoms,” Dr. Lau says. “Sometimes they’ll tell you, ‘they don’t work, they rip, I can’t feel anything,’” she says. Health educators should not only inform youth about condoms, but also assess boys’ condom attitudes, she says, because boys and young men “may have preconceived notions from peers, and even from other adults in their lives.”  She says one-on-one discussions may make young men feel more comfortable than group sessions.
  4. Remember that any young man can be at risk of getting someone pregnant.Talk to them earlier about safe sex,” Dr. Lau recommends.
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