From the film Juno to the series Teen Mom to Bristol Palin to Here Comes Honey Boo Boo – teen pregnancies, fictional or not, are commonplace within American society. And although the U.S. teen birth rate declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010, reaching a historic low at 34.3 births per 1,000 women aged 15–19, teen pregnancy still happens.
So how do we learn about sex and teen pregnancy in America? If you were like me, you probably learned about sex before you were exposed to the visually disturbing photos of syphilis in your high school health class. Maybe a sister, brother, friend or maybe, just maybe a parent informed you of the birds and bees from an extremely skewed perspective. From there you probably figured it out by piecing together snippets of Hollywood blockbuster sex scenes and heresay.
I did not take this said health class until my junior year of high school. It was only a semester-long class and was a graduation requirement. We learned about “sexual health” for about two weeks towards the end of the semester. Basically we were shown pictures of various warts and diseases and watched an outdated less than made-for-TV movie about a promising young man who got a girl he somewhat cared about pregnant and had to work in an ice cream shop for the rest of his life.
This teaching format was a joke for more than the obviously reasons. My hometown (Pueblo, Colorado) has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates per capita in the country (60.4 per 1,000 women aged 15-19). So while I was forced to see grotesque pictures in class, the fear of sex and pregnancy was doubly compounded by seeing bumped bellies walking my high school hallways. Once in the public eye, either in classrooms or on television screens, teen pregnancy becomes just another scare tactic.
Obviously scare tactics and “just say no” tactics fail as forms of prevention. But they succeed in ascribing the female individual who “failed” in some way by not abstaining from sex at a young age. Our society utilizes biopower to make visual examples out of the bodies of these teenage mothers. When, in actuality, our society is failing by not providing these individuals with the necessary education they need to protect themselves, and then publicly shaming and ridiculing them for their ignorance.
Yes, sometimes pregnancy accidentally happens to informed people. But it is preventable, and needs to be addressed in the public school system. It is part of our health education. I learned about how to brush my teeth in kindergarten. A dentist came into the classroom and taught us how to brush and floss. I shouldn’t have had to wait 11 more grades to learn how to put on a condom.