- Changing Colorado's Conversation about Sexual Health

By Greta Klingler

Few things change a person’s life more than becoming a parent. Moving in together, making the choice to commit to a partner for life, changing jobs or rerouting career paths, even buying a car or a home are all huge commitments that certainly change lives in major ways, but there is a major difference between these and getting pregnant. These other things rarely, if ever, happen by accident or without prior planning.

What does happen on accident are nearly half of all pregnancies in Colorado. So why do so many people find themselves dealing with an “oops” pregnancy?

Unintended pregnancy is a serious issue with long-term implications, and it’s not just among teens, as some might think. The highest numbers of unintended pregnancy occur among young adults ages 18-29; more than 15,000 of them each year, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Lack of knowledge about and access to contraception, as well as a certain ambivalence about pregnancy — if it happens, it happens. Unintended pregnancy can bring real-life consequences to all those involved. Women — and some men — experiencing an unintended pregnancy are less likely to graduate from high school or college, often limiting opportunities to earn a living. Women are also more at risk for intimate partner violence, limited prenatal care (sometimes because of denial that they are pregnant), pre-term labor or having a low-birth weight baby which creates health risks for the child. And children born as the result of an unintended pregnancy are affected as well. They have a higher risk of experiencing developmental delays, abuse and neglect, learning difficulties and are less likely to be breastfed, which can impact their health. The whole family, communities and our state are affected by unplanned pregnancies.

Over the past seven years, several key players in Colorado have undertaken a multi-faceted approach to address various barriers to individuals planning their pregnancies. Great strides are being made — capturing the attention of the health care and policy community in the state and around the country — and lives are being improved. Making contraceptive services more widely available, removing the barriers women face to using the most effective contraceptive methods, advocating for policies, and enhancing knowledge and normalizing conversations about sexual health.

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One of the most innovative aspects is, a dynamic public awareness campaign to help young adults “Just Talk About It” to reduce unintended pregnancy in Colorado, particularly among young adults ages 18-29, by normalizing the conversation about sexual health, birth control, STDs, pregnancy planning and other sexual health issues. Using a fresh, realistic look — and sometimes an edgy tone to help break through the noise that surrounds the target audience — is relevant to people, and takes on a new look and feel for a public health campaign. provides accurate health information and tools for young adults in Colorado that encourage them to have healthy, informed conversations about sexual health. was developed based on statewide research regarding attitudes toward family planning, birth control and STDs and is a partnership of the Colorado Initiative to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy and CDPHE. is anchored by a website (in English and Spanish) that uses an age-appropriate tone to encourage young adults to take control of their sexual health with risk-reduction strategies to lead happier, healthy lives and plan for the future. The website features useful tools for young adults including conversation starters to help with discussions with partners, friends, family and healthcare providers; a birth control method selector that presents key details about different methods; and a comprehensive health center locator to link young adults to health providers.

Since its launch in February 2012, has received an amazing response and growing engagement from young adults in Colorado. The website has attracted more than 3 million views, more than 25,000 people are Facebook fans and people are “just talking about it” through social media and in person. Various fun posts –—like Spring Fever memes — and informative ones focusing on timely birth control info or issues related to men’s sexual health issues are regular features. staff and more than 170 volunteers also connects with Coloradans at Rockies games, bar crawls, concerts, campuses across the state, art walks and other events helping create a positive atmosphere for thinking and talking about sexual health issues. Sometimes having someone you don’t know broach these issues opens the door for conversations with partners in the future. is a major component of a larger state effort to increase access family planning services and information that is being linked to substantial decreases in teen and overall fertility rates, subsequent teen births, the number of abortions in Colorado and other significant improvements in health and well-being. Because is part of a broader strategy, it will be challenging to specifically identify its impact on reducing unintended pregnancies in Colorado. That said, it is certainly filling a large void that existed to create a space for people to get information, tips and connected to health care they need — and making these topics ones worth talking about.

Greta Klinger is the family planning supervisor with the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

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