"We should not seek to prevent abortion, but unwanted pregnancy", said Dr. Nelly Salomón, director of a maternity home in Diez de Octubre, one of the most densely populated municipalities in the Cuban capital.
Teenage sexuality was one of the main topics discussed at a roundtable held last February 2, at the Dulce M. Loynaz Cultural Center in Havana.
Government data show that Cuba exhibits one of the lowest fertility rates in Latin America and the Caribbean (except for the population group aged 15 to 24).
"There came a time when the rate in the 15 to 19 year bracket was as high as in the 20 to 24 year group," stressed Dr. Luisa Álvarez, a population expert, university professor and researcher at the World Health Organization's Human Reproduction Study Center in Havana.
A National Fertility Survey in 2009 revealed that teenagers start using contraceptives after they turn 18, but begin having sex at 16.
Unwanted pregnancy, abortion, early gestation, school dropout, STIs, and promiscuity are all part and parcel of teenage life.
Dr. Jorge Peláez, chairman of the National Commission on Children and Youth Gynecology, conducted a study showing that boys have sex for the first time when they are 14 and girls 15.
In his book Contraceptive methods: current realities and prospects, he indicated that teenage deliveries account for 12 percent of total births every year. "One every four abortions involves a girl under 20," he noted. "And her sexual partner often ignores it", Dr. Álvarez emphasized.
Early sexual relations and unsafe sexual practices are usually conditioned by factors like first menstruation at a very young age, poor sex education, and certain economic and social considerations.
"The family plays a key role in this connection," Álvarez remarked.
"We should listen to and exchange views with teenagers if we really want to see them change their sexual behavior," she added.
Three months before turning 15, Natalia Benítez told SEMlac that she usually talks about sex with her mother, but never with her father or other family members. "They simply do not like it," she added.
"Last year, one of my eighth-grade classmates gave up studying because she got pregnant. She is now living with her boyfriend," she commented.
"The idea should be to protect not only physical, but also mental health," said Dr. Beatriz Torres, chairperson of the Cuban Society for Multidisciplinary Sexuality Studies (SOCUMES).
"Teenagers are criticized and given orders rather than educated and listened to," she regretted.
"The number of teenagers at doctor offices has grown, but they usually come to see us when their problems are already very difficult to solve and will probably have a negative impact on their future lives," she noted.
"They always complain about poor family communication on sexuality-related issues," she told SEMlac.
Entitled First sexual relations in local teenagers, a study involving 600 students aged 15 to 19 at an intermediate-level training center in Plaza de la Revolución municipality showed that most of them started having sex when they were very young.
Over 46 percent of girls were only 15 years old; 27.8 percent were 16 or 17; and 25.3 percent were 18. As for boys, the proportions were 26.9 percent, 51.5 percent, and 21.5 percent, respectively.
The study was conducted by José Ramón Cutié, Alfredo Laffita, and Marvelis Toledo.
Most respondents confessed that they have had three to six sexual partners so far.
"Sex education should seek to change behaviors and feelings," Dr. Salomón concluded.