Safe sex shouldn't be a secret, say members of a coalition aimed at preventing teen pregnancy, so Wednesday they took their message to Bozeman's busiest street.
In honor of the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, volunteers with the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition aimed attention-grabbing signs at passing motorists with the phrases, "Talk to your kids about sex; everyone else is," and "Every 50 seconds, a teen gets pregnant."
The coalition, made up of representatives from Gallatin County government agencies, schools and the medical community, was formed two years ago to combat teen pregnancy and raise awareness of safe sexual practices, said Cindy Ballew, a health educator at the Bridger Clinic.
The group assembled at 7:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. at 19th Avenue and Main Street. At noon, eight Bozeman High School students who volunteer with the Bridger Clinic as peer educators held signs at the corner of 11th and Main, garnering honks and whoops from fellow students on their lunch break.
The topic is personal to Fletcher Harvey, a junior; he has an aunt who got pregnant in her teens.
"She said it really changed her life," he said.
Maren Studer, also a junior, said that many kids face a lot of pressure in high school when it comes to sex. She knows several girls her age who have gotten pregnant. Some weren't using birth control, and in a few cases, the birth control method failed.
When meeting with middle school students in her role as a peer educator, she said she talks about both abstinence and birth control methods.
"(My advice) is to figure out your morals and stick to them," she said. "If you choose to have sex, be smart."
In 2006, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the birth rate among teens ages 15 to 19 was 42 births per 1,000 girls-the highest rate among developed countries, said Cindy Ballew, a health educator at Bridger Clinic. For every 1,000 girls in the same age group, 72 became pregnant.
Montana typically fares better than the national average, Ballew said, but there's still work to do. In 2006, there were 40 births per 1,000 girls, and the pregnancy rate was 56 per 1,000.
Ann Allard, a nurse with the Gallatin City-County Health Department, said that while abstinence is the best way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, kids will continue to have sex in their teens.
Allard, who also works as a school nurse for eight of the county's rural schools, said a common statement she hears from teens who decide to have sex is: "I wasn't planning to do it." Often, the decision comes on the heels of alcohol consumption, which is high among Montana teens.
Opening the dialogue between parents and kids is one way to encourage healthy sexual attitudes and practices, Allard said. She said the point of the public demonstration Wednesday was to get people talking about sex, specifically to their children.
"I saw a lot of parents reading the signs to their kids," Allard said. "If we initiated one conversation from that, we will have achieved our purpose."
Lauren Russell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 582-2635.