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Trishelle, Steven, and the Pregnancy Scare:
Why Did They Have Unprotected Sex?

By Cassie Wolfe, 19, SEX, ETC.

I turned on the TV today and saw the usual: Jerry Springer's love triangle, Ricki Lake's reunited lost lovers, and soap operas with the same married couples, mistresses, evil mothers, absent fathers, and crazy children. Then I came across The Real World's Trishelle and Steven, stressing out over a potential pregnancy after they had unprotected sex. Finally, a real issue faced by countless young people in the United States.

But how and why did Trishelle, 22, and Steven, 23, end up here—facing the possibility of an unplanned pregnancy? They obviously knew about contraception; Trishelle called their actions "irresponsible." So, why did she and Steven—like so many other young people who know the risks of unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease (STD)—have unprotected sex anyway?

There's no simple answer. Young people actually take sex risks for a variety of reasons, according to Pamela M. Wilson, M.S.W., author of When Sex Is the Subject, who's worked as a sexuality education consultant for the past 19 years.

"Many young people weren't expecting to have sex, so they didn't come prepared with condoms or other birth control/protection methods. Some—especially young men—still believe a lot of myths, such as 'You only need to use protection with someone who's a freak—someone who's having sex with a lot of different people.' That you don't need to use protection with your regular partner or a 'nice' girl," she explains.

Laziness is another culprit, according to Wilson.

"Some young people just don't make the effort. They think it's too much of a bother to stop the action and put a condom on," she says.

An inability to imagine the future can also be a barrier to protection use. Some young people assume that "bad things"—like STDs or unplanned pregnancy—just can't happen to them.

"They have a tendency to focus more on today than the far-off future, and pay less attention to consequences that might happen," says Wilson.

But other young people live with risks every day and expect the worst to happen, so sexual risk-taking becomes no big deal.

"They see violence happening in their schools and neighborhoods, so they think they shouldn't fear taking sexual risks, because they'll probably die early in life anyway," says Wilson.

Another key factor is education about the ins and outs of contraceptive use. To stay pregnancy- and/or STD-free, young people need the necessary knowledge, skill, and motivation to use contraception correctly every time they have oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Wilson explains what a young person getting educated about contraception needs to learn:

"You must recognize that you're at risk for unplanned pregnancy or STDs; you have to believe that it can really happen to you. You have to know where to get protection; you have to have the confidence and communication ability to actually go to the drugstore or clinic/doctor to get it. You have to have the skill to communicate with a partner. You have to know how to use your method correctly; and then you have to actually use it correctly each and every time you engage in sexual intercourse," she says.

You're not just born with these skills; you have to learn them. And many young people, according to Wilson, haven't received enough adequate education to know how to protect themselves.

"Too often, sexuality education programs give little to no information about how to engage in sexual intercourse responsibly. Yet it's a skill that most human beings will need to use at some point in their lives," she says.

Stay Protected

Trishelle and Steven attributed their having unprotected sex to alcohol and to the commonly-held myth that if you've already had unprotected sex with your partner once, you've already transmitted any STDs you may have to each other. But you can check in with yourself and assess your own risk behavior. You can also remember that it's never too late to learn how to protect yourself. Education is the first step.

You can learn about all the different contraceptive options and decide what ones are best for you and your partner. To find out about your options, click here.

You can also learn how to communicate and negotiate with your partner. Without an open line of communication, there can be many complications in your relationship, which can lead to poor judgment calls and life-altering consequences. To learn more about communication, click here.

Protecting yourself and your partner every time you have oral, vaginal, or anal sex isn't always easy-but it's definitely possible.

"It requires serious effort to use contraception correctly and consistently, and it's hard to change behavior," says Wilson. "But think about how people complained about the hassle of using seat belts; now it's like second nature. It's a bit of a bother, but it can become a habit."

Protecting yourself has to become a habit, because, as the cliché goes, "one moment of pleasure isn't worth a lifetime of pain."

Just ask Trishelle and Steven, who were relieved after Trishelle's negative pregnancy test.

"Now I'm going to learn from this and start using freakin' condoms with her," said Steven.

-Cassie Wolfe, 19, of Lakewood, NJ, is an editor for SEX, ETC., the national newsletter and Web site written by teens, for teens, on sexual health issues, published by the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

 Visit SEX, ETC. at www.sxetc.org

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