4 easy steps to preventing teen pregnancy

2014-07-09 14:35

I run Young Mom Support, a non-profit working with pregnant and parenting teens. We're often asked (all the time) why we don't focus on teen pregnancy prevention instead. My answer has to be: because there are other people doing it. Maybe not well enough, but there you go.  Despite all our very best efforts, teen pregnancy will always be with us, as it always has. YMS focuses on what happens what's next when the prevention campaigns *don't* work. Somebody needs to address that situation, and that's what we're trying to do. Of course, I have strident opinions on why teen pregnancy happens and no, it's nothing to do with social grants so hush.

The prevention conversation and the "reasons" one linked above are exhausting to me. People do not ask the right questions. The logic, she is missing from the discourse. Plenty of stereotypes, ill-informed opinions stolen from Facebook posts; a tasty combo of woolly-headed privileged thinking, snobbery, sexism and a dash of good ol' fashioned racism thrown in for spice. It hurts my head.

But today I'll give it a bash.

So.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention. What can we do?

I'm going to talk about it. You might want to stand back.

Step 1 - a million, recurring

Make sure every child - boy & girl - gets accurate, ongoing sex education from long before they'll be sexually active. Including issues of their physical development and the development of the opposite sex, all manner of details about sex itself, masturbation, contraceptive information, pregnancy information including all options such as abortion, adoption, parenting.  STI & HIV information, porn, consent, healthy RELATIONSHIPS - sexual and non-sexual. Talk about how sex of any kind is not a requirement of a relationship and that their worth is not measured by their sexual activity, or lack thereof. Their worth is immeasurable.

Make a world where this is true.

Talk. Constantly, all the time. At home, at school. Everywhere. Be the first to explain, be the most reliable source of information, be the most trustworthy person to talk to. Be the place they know they'll get the answers they need. Don't make them scared to open their mouths and talk. Sex ed based on scare tactics does not work. Threats of damnation and shame for even considering sex, ever, will keep those mouths shut and those questions unasked, until it's too late.

Demolish any obstacle - cultural, religious, institutional - that gets in the way of young people accessing the information and services they require. Do this every time and every place you see it.

Step 2a

Don't want teenagers to only live in the moment? Want them to look ahead and consider consequences of their actions? Give them something to look forward to. Give them the chance at some kind of future. Meaning, jobs. Real ones, that pay real money that you can live on. Education that means something. A real chance at a life different to the one they might have now. Remove the need for transactional sex with adult men. Because if the only way you're going to eat tonight is to have sex with that slobbery dude round the corner - who wouldn't do it? Who wouldn't?

Step 2b

And then, once you've eradicated poverty, removed the obstacles stacked up against the chances of anyone actually getting that life, and ensured opportunities for every person who may be willing to take them up:  sit a minute and remember all the times you have made a simple, once-off stupid decision which may or may not have had consequences that could change your life. If there were no consequences, you were lucky that time. Just for e.g: have you run any red lights this week?

Step 3

Related to step 1 but different. Make sure girls and boys know what a healthy relationship looks like, what love is and ISN'T. Actually, scratch that. It's not about relationships. It's the simple idea that one human = the same as another human, so behave accordingly.

Remove every patriarchal structure in place that teaches that girls should not have bodily, emotional, sexual or intellectual autonomy. Teach the boys that girls do not exist for their convenience. The go back and teach the adults. Round up all the slobbery old men and make sure they hear you.  Create the world that's safe for your daughters and sons.

And then, when you're finished, talk to the girls. And they'll be like "Duh. We were wondering when you'd all catch on to this".

Step 4

So. Patriarchy removed. The pants of adult men remain resolutely ON. Poverty eradicated. All the sex education ever, provided. Ditto all contraceptive services. Condoms raining from the skies.

Now you have to remember this - and you won't like it (maybe)

Sometimes girls and boys of a similar age, in a healthy and not-unequal relationship, fully informed of all the facts, have sex because they want to.  Because human biology. Because feelings. Because normal. Do you remember?

And sometimes, when they do this, despite every precaution taken - pregnancy still occurs.

Because, again, human biology.

We CAN do something about steps 1-3. Step 4? This one has always been here, and won't be shifted without lobotomies.

Once pregnancy does occur - there's a whole other conversation that has to happen (again, because obviously if you followed step 1 you've discussed this eventuality already). Questions of choices and feelings and future and what you're willing / not willing to do. While remembering, of course, that this does not have to be the end of everything.

Are you still here? Exhausted yet? Seems like a lot of work, doesn't it?

That's because it is. That's because we should only, really, be having to deal with the occasional Number 4 situation. But we're not. We're dealing with Steps 1 - 3, mostly.

None of which, incidentally, the young girls and boys of today had ANYTHING to do with putting in place, and cannot change by themselves.

So that's my easy 4 step guide to teen pregnancy prevention.

Easy to fit on a t-shirt? Snappy enough for ya? No?

Or - you could do what we've been doing since forever and simply tell girls to close their legs or else. Yeah, that'll work.

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