How does demographics and race contribute to reproductive health literacy
26 August 2022
In the United States, the rate of unplanned pregnancies has been increasing for decades. While there are various contributing factors, one of the major causes for this trend is a lack of reproductive health literacy, or the inability of individuals to make informed decisions about their health and bodies. Several factors such as economic security, limited educational opportunities, and low communication between patients and providers may lead to low reproductive health literacy. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that certain groups, such as women of color and low-income individuals, have especially low rates of reproductive health literacy.
Why Do You Need Reproductive Health Literacy?
Reproductive Health Literacy, or the ability to make informed decisions about one’s health and bodies, is a necessary component to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the associated health problems. Studies have shown that individuals with higher reproductive health literacy are more likely to use contraception, avoid risky sexual behaviors, and get tested for STIs or become pregnant only after intending to do so. Additionally, those with higher reproductive health literacy are more likely to receive adequate contraceptive care, which can prevent many of the unwanted pregnancies that occur annually in the U.S.
However, despite the benefits of higher reproductive health literacy, multiple studies have shown that certain groups, such as women of color and low-income individuals, have relatively low rates of reproductive health literacy. In fact, some specialists believe that there may be actually be a health disparity between these two groups, with low-income individuals and women of color being at a greater risk of unplanned pregnancies due to their low health literacy.
What Is Reproductive Health Literacy?
Reproductive health literacy is the knowledge and skills necessary to make smart decisions about one’s reproductive healthcare. To produce healthy offspring, an individual must be able to comprehend basic information about his or her body and the nature of sex and sexuality. In order to achieve this, reproductive health literacy programs should focus on providing individuals with the necessary information about their bodies and the workings of hormones, as well as helping them to understand the various methods of contraception and their pros and cons. The program should also teach them how to properly protect themselves against STIs and HIV, as well as provide guidance regarding sexual behavior and risk reduction. Lastly, patients should have the ability to read pregnancy test results and understand their implications for further action, if necessary.
Many factors may contribute to the low reproductive health literacy of certain groups. These include socioeconomic status, limited educational opportunities, and stereotype threat. However, the main cause of low reproductive health literacy is a lack of information. Those who are at a higher risk of unplanned pregnancies are less likely to know how to protect themselves against these risks, or how to decide when to have children. This may be due, in part, to a lack of education about their bodies and the nature of sex and sexuality. Further compounding the issue is the fact that certain groups, such as women of color and low-income individuals, are often overestimated in terms of the number of children they will have, which may lead them to feel that they do not require as much education regarding contraception and pregnancy as their white counterparts. This, in turn, may lead them to have fewer children or delay childbearing until later in life.
How Is Reproductive Health Literacy Measured?
The American Association of Sexuality Educators, Intactivists, and Counselors (4A’s), a group of sexual health educators, define sexual health literacy as the knowledge and skills necessary to make smart decisions about one’s sexual healthcare. In terms of measuring reproductive health literacy, there are various ways to approach this issue. One way is to examine the demographic characteristics and sexual behavior of those who have the disease or condition in question. For example, if we examine HIV prevalence, we can see which groups are more or less at risk of getting the disease. Additionally, we can look at the types of sexual partners individuals have and the frequency with which they have sex, in order to understand the level of protection they are providing themselves.
Another way to examine reproductive health literacy is to look at decision-making capacity. Studies have shown that, for individuals to make smart decisions regarding their health and bodies, they must have the ability to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of various options and be able to communicate these considerations to their healthcare providers. For example, if an individual finds out that a contraceptive method prevents certain types of STIs, but also increases their risk of ovarian cancer, they may choose to use it anyway, as they are able to make a more informed decision about their health than they would have been able to make had they not known the risks associated with the method. This ability to weigh benefits and drawbacks and communicate the results of this analysis to healthcare providers is known as decision-making capacity.
Who Should Be Held Accountable For Ensuring Reproductive Health Literacy?
Since this is a social determinant of health, various groups should be held accountable for ensuring that reproductive health literacy is high among their members. Some of these groups include reproduction health care providers, such as doctors and nurses, as well as educators, social workers, and psychologists. If we look at HIV prevalence rates among these groups, we can see that healthcare providers must be especially attentive to this issue. While there are many contributing factors to this epidemic, it is clear that low educational attainment and lack of communication between patients and providers are major contributors, as well as the stigma surrounding HIV. In order to combat this, providers must ensure that their patients have the knowledge and skills necessary to make informed decisions regarding their healthcare. Additionally, since this is a social issue, providers must also be careful not to perpetuate the stigma surrounding HIV.
Low-income individuals and women of color, who are often overestimated in terms of the number of children they will have, have especially low levels of reproductive health literacy. This has serious implications for the health of these communities. While there are certainly various contributing factors to this issue, such as low socioeconomic status and limited educational opportunities, it is clear that the stigma surrounding abortion and difficulty accessing contraception are also major factors. This is why, in addition to ensuring that individuals have the necessary information to make informed decisions, providers should be encouraging these communities to have more children.