At Rosanna Herrara’s high school in the Bronx, the sex talk came too late for some girls in her health-education class.
Herrara, 17, a senior at the High School for Excellence in Morrisania, said the class scared her enough to think, “I don’t want to have sex ever.” In a class of about 20 students, she said there were three pregnant girls.
“There was even a tenth grader at my school who was pregnant,” Herrara said.
Latina teen pregnancy rates and teen birth rates are nearly twice the nation’s average, and the highest of any ethnic group in the country. It is estimated that 53 percent of Latinas in the United States will become pregnant at least once before reaching the age of 20, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Of New York City’s five boroughs, the Bronx has both the highest rate of teen pregnancy and the largest proportion of Hispanics and Latinos, the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported. And Latina adolescent girls have some of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the city.
In the Bronx, the health department reported 11.3 percent of girls 15 to 19 years old became pregnant in 2007, compared to the 8.3 percent in New York City as a whole. Additionally, 11.4 percent of Latino teenage girls in the city became pregnant in 2007.
Girls from across all socioeconomic backgrounds can have sex and become pregnant, said Carole Roye, a professor of nursing science at the City University of New York. But the decisions they make can be different based on where they are from.
“A suburban, white girl — high school girl — gets pregnant; she has more money; she has access; she has knowledge,” Roye said. “She knows where to go, and she can terminate that pregnancy pretty easily.”
On the other hand, teenagers from the Bronx with less access to medical care don’t know where to go for advice or treatment, she said.
Roye, a registered nurse, also works with female adolescents at a community-based clinic in Washington Heights. A majority of her patients are Hispanic and come from the Bronx to see her, she said.
Roye explained the overall national teen pregnancy rate has decreased because of improvements in long-term contraceptives. Although most adolescent girls know about their prophylactic options, such as the birth control pill, they don’t always use them regularly, if at all.
In her 20 years of experience, Roye has noticed several encouraging trends in relation to teen pregnancy among her Hispanic patients. Overall, the rate has decreased, and there have been changes in parent-child relationship, as well as a more positive outlook for teens.
“I’m seeing more and more of my Hispanic patients tell their mothers that they’re sexually active,” Roye said. These girls no longer have to hide the fact they are sexually active, and their mothers can then remind them to take their pill and practice safe sex.
Another dramatic change she noticed is more of these girls are graduating from high school and pursuing college degrees.
“When a girl is motivated, has plans for her life, she’s less likely to get pregnant. She’s more focused on her future,” Roye said.
Natalie Cruz, 13, an eighth-grade student at C.I.S. 166 Roberto Clemente Middle School in the Bronx, said teachers try to teach students about sex and pregnancy prevention.
“They talk about most of the stuff, about sperm and babies,” Natalie said. “I know not to do it at an early age, but some have other experiences. They do what they want.”
Natalie, whose mother had her first child at the age of 15 in Puerto Rico, is not sexually active because she wants to “find the right guy” first. In her neighborhood, the South Bronx, men compete to be that guy, she said.
“Guys talk to me about (sex). They’ll breathe in your face. Some even grab your hand to speak to you. They make promises and say, ‘It won’t be bad,’ ” Natalie said. “Guys here will be 18 and go out with 14-year-olds.”
Despite solicitations from men on MySpace or from neighborhood streets, Natalie remains steadfast in her abstinence. Some of her sexually active peers try to pressure her into having sex, but she responds by spending more free time with her family.
Natalie’s 16-year-old cousin had a baby eight months ago, and Natalie does not want to follow the same path.
“I don’t want to see myself like that. I want to enjoy my teenage life. I mean, I like kids, but I don’t want to deal with them right now,” she said.
The middle-school student wants to attend the High School of Graphic Communication Arts in Manhattan next year, and eventually sees herself at Lehman College.
Jasmine Berez, 17, is also goal-oriented. She lives in the South Bronx with her older sister and is a senior at St. Jean Baptiste High School, a private Catholic school in the Upper East Side.
Sexual education was incorporated into the 10th grade health curriculum at Berez’s school, but not as extensively as she would have liked. Berez said teachers supplemented information by distributing lists of free clinics in the city.
Although her school teaches sex education, she has learned more about pregnancy prevention from family and friends.
“My aunt got pregnant at 15,” Berez said. “She lived with my mom, and my mom kicked her out because she didn’t want to get an abortion. She tells me a lot of stories and tells me to wait until I’m ready,” Berez said.
Two of Berez’s friends from middle school both became pregnant at the age of 16 — one kept her baby, and one got an abortion. Seeing her friends deal with the repercussions of teen pregnancy serves as a reminder that she is not ready for sex or a child.
The youngest of four children to Puerto Rican immigrants, the high-school senior said her ambitions in life also help her stay abstinent. Berez wants to attend Stony Brook University’s School of Nursing next year. She currently has a paid internship at New York University’s Bellevue Hospital, where she works in pediatrics with kids who have HIV.
“It’s senior year,” Berez said. “I’m not going to lose focus.”