CONTEXT: Fostering conventional goals is a key component of pregnancy prevention interventions for teenagers. However, research has not shown whether having goals independently influences sexual behavior, or whether the perception that pregnancy represents an impediment to achieving goals mediates any association.

METHODS: In 1999–2001, a racially mixed group of 351 sexually experienced female teenagers who were inadequate contraceptive users completed surveys about goals, the anticipated impact of childbearing on these goals, and protective behaviors and attitudes. Chi-square, regression and two-by-two table analyses assessed associations between goals and perceptions of early childbearing and pregnancy avoidance measures.

RESULTS: Three-fourths of respondents had educational or vocational goals. Eight in 10 of these teenagers perceived their goals to be achievable, but fewer than half thought pregnancy would be an impediment to achieving these goals. Teenagers who had goals were more likely than others to have used a contraceptive at last intercourse (odds ratio, 1.9), but controlling for the perception of pregnancy as an impediment eliminated this association. In contrast, considering pregnancy an impediment was associated with an increased likelihood of supporting each pregnancy avoidance measure (2.1–9.6), and of intending to avoid pregnancy and to have an abortion if pregnant, regardless of whether teenagers had goals (8.3–13.8).

CONCLUSIONS: Conventional goals appear to motivate teenagers to avoid getting pregnant only if they believe pregnancy will be an impediment. Thus, it may be less important to encourage young women to formulate goals than to ensure that they consider adolescent childbearing a threat to their plans.