By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Sunni Loveland, Tucumcari’s school nurse, has heard a few too many 12-year-old girls justify being sexually active “because he loves me.”
“If he really loves you,” Loveland said she tells them, “see what happens when you tell him you want to wait until you’re 18 to have sex.”
Loveland has made preventing pregnancy and early sexual activity among Tucumcari teens a personal crusade. The toll in lives and dreams interrupted, and in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases is just too high, she said.
Teens need to learn more about the consequences of their actions and how to set goals for their future, she said.
Loveland was among 10 to 15 school, health and behavioral health professionals in Quay County who gathered Friday in Tucumcari to share ideas on how to mobilize action aimed at reducing the number of teen pregnancies in the county. Some in the gathering said the group should also emphasize curtailing the spread of sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
To introduce the topics, Alida Brown, coordinator for the Quay County Health Council, who called the group together, cited statistics that showed the extent of teen pregnancy in Tucumcari and Quay County.
A wide majority of pregnancies among girls age 13 to 18 occurred in Tucumcari, according to results of a study conducted in 2011 in schools by the New Mexico Department of Health and the University of New Mexico. From 2005 to 2007, Tucumcari accounted for 93 percent of such pregnancies. From 2008 to 2010, Tucumcari accounted for 82 percent of teen pregnancies in the county.
Results of that same study showed that nearly 15 percent of middle school students may already have had sexual relations, often with several partners, before they even enter high school. That was down from 22 percent in 2019.
Quay County ranks third among New Mexico counties in its rate of births among girls age 13 to 18, and although the rate has declined in the past year, the county’s rate of pregnancies is high enough to raise concern among health professionals. There were six pregnancies among girls age 15 to 17 in 2012, half of the number of pregnancies in that age group for 2011.
Quay County’s teen birth rate, the equivalent of about 90 per 1,000 births, was well above New Mexico’s rate of about 45 teen births per 1,000 for 2011. The nation’s teen birth rate for 2010 was about 30 per 1,000 births.
Brown said this meeting was just one of the first to begin exploring plans of action to reduce these numbers.
Teens need to learn more about the consequences of sexuality, and should know more about availability of birth control, including condoms, and birth control drugs and devices, most seemed to agree.
The group also seemed to agree that resources would be limited for any informational programs that would be planned.
The group will meet again to talk about barriers that teens face in receiving information about the consequences of sexual activity and preventive measures, Brown said.