The Glamorization of Teen Pregnancy

By Julie Zeilinger*

Despite the media’s recent proclivity for glamorizing teen pregnancy (everything from the film Juno to TV shows like “16 and Pregnant”, “Teen Mom” and “The Secret Life of the American Teenager”), it seems that there is good news for the youth of America. Recent studies show that more states are eschewing ineffective abstinence-only sex education programs in favor of comprehensive sex education. Even in traditionally conservative states like Ohio and Florida, schools are now employing, “effective models for pregnancy and disease prevention,” and are providing, “comprehensive, medically accurate and age-appropriate information.” If all goes as planned, all teens who attend school may finally have a chance to gather reliable information about sex and reproductive health.

These advances have not come without backlash, however. Commentators in a Cleveland Plain Dealer article about the local public school system’s move towards comprehensive education questioned the need for a program dealing with sex at all in schools; the responsibility to teach children about sex remains solely at home with parents, many argued. And of course, there were the ever present lamenters of the decrepit state of youth today - the direct result of those hippies and the sexual revolution, according to a few. Their solution to the problem of teens engaging in sex was a return to abstinence-only sex education. Clearly, they were able to ignore clear indications of the success of comprehensive sex education. During the reign of abstinence-only terror (1992-2005) California, the only state that never accepted federal abstinence-only dollars under the Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage program, but rather opted for contraceptive services, had a 52% decline in teen pregnancies.

While these changes on the governmental level are certainly something to celebrate, other recent statistics that went to the source – teens – seem to be less promising. The rate of high school students reporting having had sexual intercourse (46%) was less than a 2% drop since 2007, and 87% of students reported having been taught about AIDS or HIV in school: an unsettling 3% drop from 2007.  BusinessWeek  also suggests that the aforementioned glamorization of teen pregnancy may have had a deeper impact on teens than anybody would have guessed; one in four teen boys and one in five teen girls who have had sex now say they would be pleased if their partner got pregnant.

The National Council for Research on Women’s own research shows that nearly half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended, and among women aged 18-24, the rate is 69%. Our studies also show that the rate of contraceptive use is directly related to the number of unintended pregnancies among women. And let’s not forget that pregnancy carries significant health risks: two of the six leading risk factors for death among women aged 15-44 years around the world are unsafe sex and unmet contraceptive needs.

As Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood put it, "We cannot afford to keep our heads in the sand about ensuring that our young people have access to comprehensive sex education… there is plenty of room for more comprehensive sex education that includes information about abstinence, contraception, healthy relationships, and responsible decision-making."

*Julie Zeilinger, current Communications intern with the National Council for Research on Women, is the founder and editor of The FBomb, a blog and community for teenage feminists. She is a senior at the Hawken School in Cleveland, Ohio.

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