Sex education and the teen pregnancy culture


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“I’m pregnant.”

“What? Honest to blog?”

“Yeah. Yeah, it’s Bleeker's.”

“It’s probably just a food baby. Did you have a big lunch?

“No, this is not a food baby, all right? I’ve taken like three pregnancy tests, and I’m forshizz up the spout.”

Everyone’s favorite pregnant pubescent, Juno, apparently wasn’t alone in 2007 when she adorably got all forshizzed up the spout (which was almost as trendy as her hamburger phone). According to figures released on Tuesday by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization that conducts research on sexual and reproductive health, the rate of teenagers becoming pregnant has increased for the first time since the late 1980s.

All the world’s cute hipster dialogue can’t make this disturbing new data OK.

So what factors were present in 2006 that may have influenced this sudden reversal in the number of teenage pregnancies? The institute points to abstinence-only education programs during the Bush administration as the culprit in the increase.

When teen pregnancies were at a record low in the 1990s, there was increased access to contraceptives. This access to birth control mirrors what is available in California, one of the only states not only avoiding the increase in teen pregnancy but a state that was actually at an all-time low in 2006, according to the organization.

Deb Madison-Levi, the director of operations at the Iowa Initiative, an organization attempting to reduce unplanned pregnancies, said Iowa also isn’t really experiencing the same increase in teen pregnancy rates, because of programs available that aim to help educate the public about sexuality.

Iowa’s steady rate of teen pregnancy speaks to the success of these programs, she said, such as the Iowa Initiative and EyesOpenIowa, which focuses on adolescent sexual health.

Iowa is on the right track, and with the Obama administration pushing for comprehensive sex education, these numbers will decrease … right? I’m not so sure.

Since this data were collected, I wonder if there may be a new dynamic of this issue to consider — the influence of which is still to be seen.

Juno: This is where you and your forshizzed spout come in.

Beginning in 2007, the not-so-phenomenal phenomena of babies having babies has permeated every aspect of popular culture: In 2008, there was the “pregnancy pact” firestorm in the news, in which 18 students of one Massachusetts high school became pregnant after allegedly making a pact to do so. Meanwhile, the pregnancies of Jamie-Lynn Spears and Bristol Palin created two pretty and rich faces of teen fertility. Popular TV shows such as “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom,” and the recent TV movie The Pregnancy Pact are keeping young parents in the spotlight.

So what effect are these media portrayals of teen pregnancy creating? I think it depends. “Teen Mom,” the follow-up MTV series to the too-light “16 and Pregnant,” follows teenage mothers who decided to raise their children. If anything, the program serves as a cautionary tale. Between flaky baby-daddies, no baby-daddies, poor family relations, and the mirage of education slowly disappearing, it’s clear that becoming knocked up young is no fairy tale — a fact that cutesy faux-photo album doodles before commercials can’t change.

Rhonda Chittenden, the executive director of EyesOpenIowa, said she is unsure of the effect these numerous portrayals of teen mothers in the media will have, but she stressed the importance of good adult figures to help make sense of these depictions.

“The impact depends so much on that community’s attitude toward young people and young people’s healthy sexuality,” she said. “I think it is so important that young people have trusted adults to talk about these media portrayals. It helps them to sort through the glamour, sensationalism, and sometimes even the shaming of these types of portrayals of teen pregnancy.”

A portrayal of teen pregnancy herself, Bristol Palin, has recently reached out to young women to offer her post-pregnancy wisdom — for better or worse. As reported in interviews in People and on Oprah this month, she’s preaching abstinence again. Well, if an abstinence-only approach didn’t work the first time, then it’s bound to be effective the second time, right?

Let’s just hope our nation’s youth know better. Or, more accurately, let’s hope they’re taught better.

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