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May 28, 2014 08:21 PM EDT

Sex Education, Moral Attitudes May Influence Contraceptive Use

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Women's contraceptive use may be influenced by previous contraception education and moral attitudes, according to a recent study.

Researchers from the University of Missouri found that levels of prior sex education and moral attitudes toward contraception influence whether women use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and unplanned pregnancies are associated with poorer health and lower rates of educational and economic achievement for women and their children.

"Our study showed that when women had more comprehensive sex education that consisted of information about healthy relationships, abstinence from sexual intercourse and how to properly use contraceptives, they were more likely to seek health care and use contraception compared to women who received abstinence-only sex education," Valerie Bader, a clinical instructor in the University of Missouri's Sinclair School of Nursing, said in a statement. "We also found that when women believe contraception is morally wrong, they were less likely to visit women's health clinics or use contraception to prevent unwanted pregnancies."

For the study, researchers analyzed data from a national survey of 900 unmarried women ages 18 to 29 to better understand how contraceptive knowledge and attitudes affect the likelihood that women will visit health clinics or use contraceptives to prevent unintended pregnancies.

Bader said the findings provide a better understanding of the factors involved in women's decisions about contraceptives and can assist health professionals and educators in developing interventions to improve acceptance and correct use of contraceptives.

"In general, individuals need more access to comprehensive contraceptive information so they can make informed decisions; however, this information can be difficult to obtain because the national dialogue about sexuality and contraception is very polarized due to individuals' moral attitudes," Bader said. "Family planning leads to healthier futures for moms and their children to a degree that few other health promotion efforts can match. Having children is a life-changing decision, and the opportunity to plan pregnancies can help people from all backgrounds be happy about pregnancy and prepared to raise children."

The findings were published in the Journal of Midwifery & Women's Health earlier this year.

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