It’s hard to imagine anything that changes your life more than having a child. Moving in with a partner; making the choice to commit to a partner for life; changing jobs or rerouting your career path; even buying a car or a home are all huge commitments that certainly change your life in major ways, but there is a major difference between these and getting pregnant. These other things rarely, if ever, happen by accident or without prior planning. Nearly half of all pregnancies in Colorado, on the other hand, are unintended, meaning that they occurred earlier than planned or when the people involved didn’t want to get pregnant at all. It’s really hard to imagine getting married by accident (unless maybe you’re in Vegas having a few too many cocktails) or having an attitude about purchasing a home that if it happens it happens without taking any action. So why do so many people find themselves dealing with an “oops” pregnancy?
Unintended pregnancy is a serious issue in Colorado and it’s not just among teens as some might think. The highest numbers of unintended pregnancy occur among young adults ages 18-29 – over 15,000 each year according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) data from 2011. Unintended pregnancy can bring serious consequences to all those involved. Women experiencing an unintended pregnancy are less likely to graduate from high school or college, often leading to economic hardship. They are also more at risk for intimate partner violence, limited prenatal care, pre-term labor or having a low-birth weight baby. Children born as the result of an unintended pregnancy are at higher risk of developmental delays, abuse and neglect, learning difficulties and are less likely to be breastfed.
Over the past five years Colorado has made great strides in addressing this issue through a number of efforts. One of the most exciting and innovative is the Beforeplay campaign, a partnership of The Colorado Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy and CDPHE. The goal of Beforeplay is to reduce unintended pregnancy in Colorado, particularly among young adults ages 18-29, by normalizing the conversation about sexual health, birth control, STD’s and pregnancy planning. They provide accurate health information and tools for young adults in Colorado that encourage them to have healthy, informed conversations about sexual health. Beforeplay,org was developed based on statewide research regarding attitudes toward family planning, birth control and STD’s.
The Beforeplay website uses an age-appropriate tone to encourage young adults to take control of their sexual health with risk-reduction strategies to lead happy, healthy lives and plan for the future. The website also features useful tools for young adults including conversation starters to help young people discuss their sexual health with partners, friends, family and healthcare providers; a method selector that presents all the facts about different birth control methods; and a comprehensive Colorado health center finder that includes locations with low-cost services so all young adults in Colorado can access health providers, regardless of financial circumstances. In addition to the website, Beforeplay connects with Coloradans through community events, campus activities at community colleges and universities, social media, statewide advertising and most recently an anonymous text line. Anyone with a question about birth control, STDs, pregnancy planning or sexual health can text b4play and their question to 57890 to receive a reliable answer from a health professional within 24 hours.
The Beforeplay Campaign was first launched in February 2012 and has received an amazing response from young adults in Colorado. Over 200,000 unique visitors have used the website and the campaign has nearly 9,000 fans on Facebook. Even more exciting is the conversations that are occurring on social media and out at community events about birth control and sexual health. While it’s still too early to say for sure whether Beforeplay is impacting unintended pregnancy rates in Colorado, it is a major component of a larger state effort to increase access family planning services and information that is being linked to substanital decreases in teen and overall fertility rates, subsequent teen births, the number of abortions in Colorado and poor birth outcomes.