Recent statistics from the Department of Health reveal a concerning trend of increasing sexual experimentation among teens ages 11 and under in Puerto Rico. While this rise has not led to a surge in underage pregnancies, it has resulted in younger individuals seeking reproductive services due to early pregnancy. Anayra Túa-López, CEO of the organization Proyecto Nacer, warns that they are now seeing adolescent parents seeking their services at a much younger age than they did a decade ago.
According to data collected by Proyecto Nacer, the average age of pregnant women seeking help has dropped from 16.5 years in 2013 to 15 years in 2023. Túa-López highlights that there is a growing number of girls aged 13 and 14 becoming mothers, indicating a concerning trend of younger incidents of pregnancy.
Additionally, there has been a noticeable increase in sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among minors. Chlamydia is the most commonly detected disease, followed by genital herpes. Marilú Cintrón Casado, the assistant secretary of Family Health, Integrated Services, and Health Promotion at the Department of Health, explains that Puerto Rican boys and girls are engaging in sexual exploration at younger ages.
The Puerto Rico High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey conducted in 2021 revealed that 639 boys and girls aged 11 or younger reported having engaged in intimate sexual activity. The survey further showed that sexual activity starts at age 12 for 945 minors, age 13 for 1,303, age 14 for 2,600, and age 15 for 3,346.
Túa-López attributes this early exploration to various factors, including the sexualization of communications and media exposure that young people face daily. She also notes the normalization of sexual intimacy without emotional commitment and the lack of perceived risks associated with it. Mental instability among minors is another vulnerability that contributes to early sexual relations.
Túa-López emphasizes that poverty and economic deprivation are key risk factors for teenage parenthood. However, the issue is not limited to specific social strata. She also highlights the lack of emotional, economic, and social maturity among adolescents, stating that neither they nor adults are prepared to raise infants.
The increasing number of pregnancies in younger girls calls for early action to prevent sexual activity among minors. The Department of Health is actively working on community education efforts to raise awareness about the risks of premature sexual activity, including the transmission of sexually transmitted infections. Education also focuses on the impact of untimely sexual behavior on emotional and social health, as well as future reproductive capacity.
The use of condoms and a general decline in the population on the island have contributed to a decrease in teenage pregnancies. Health statistics indicate a steady decline in the number of pregnancies among minors, with 3,059 cases in 2021. However, even a single case is concerning, and efforts to address the underlying causes of early sexual activity must continue.
Túa-López points to multiple patterns that contribute to adolescent parenthood, including intergenerational cases where children have children. She also highlights instances of dating violence and sexual abuse as triggering factors for pregnancy, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Túa-López calls for comprehensive intervention programs that go beyond sexual education to address academic achievement, goal attainment, and healthy child development. Breaking cycles of hopelessness and providing alternatives for progress are crucial in preventing early pregnancies among adolescents.