Sigh… have finally managed to get myself into gear to post this. Everybody wants a quick fix solution to the problem of teen pregnancy.
Newsflash – there ISN’T ONE.
They believe everybody is the same and it’s all down to not enough discipline, not enough education, not enough green vegetables. Or something. It’s a combination of all those things and 100 more, and everybody has their own story.
Parents, teachers, healthcare providers, society (that’s you and me, buddy) – all have a part to play.
First I’ll tackle the “accidental” reasons. Will leave the “on purpose” post for another day.
The most obvious reason (ha!) is that teens fall pregnant because they’re having sex. Parents are terrified of admitting that teens are sexual beings. That sexual expression and wanting to have sex is normal, natural and part of growing up. You can’t get anywhere NEAR preventing unintended pregnancy, sexually-transmitted disease or HIV infection until you admit that sex happens, even to the nicest of people.
If you’re stuck thinking that sex is wrong, evil, unnatural or is only had by problem children – do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Watch those teen pregnancy stats rise while you clutch your pearls. Go on, we’ll wait, over here in the real world.
Some of the reasons you’ll see below seem simple: everybody knows that contraception is free. Surely that means everybody can use birth control? In practice, no.
Clinics can be difficult to access: logistically (how will I get there without anybody knowing), financially (I need taxi money to get there), emotionally (I know I’ll be treated badly when I get there, or I won’t be treated confidentially).
Then there is the issue of partners not being willing to use condoms (don’t you trust me? I can’t get you pregnant / don’t have HIV, if you loved me you wouldn’t ask me to use a condom). The ugly truth of the state of women’s rights (in practice) – even today. Too many girls (and women) feel they have not autonomy over their own lives, bodies, choices. It’s easy to scoff at that – it’s 2013 after all. Why don’t they just say NO?
But they’re RIGHT. Sometimes they DON’T have the ability to stand up to the men in their lives. All the self-esteem and empowerment lectures in the world will do NOTHING, if she still has to go back home to the same guy, the same family, the same community – where NOBODY has been lecturing the men. Sometimes this means that she can’t say no, realistically, to sex. Sometimes it means she cannot demand condom use. This is not something a 16 year old girl can change by herself. We all have a part to play in this.
She has the right to want a romantic relationship – it’s no good telling her she should concentrate on her schoolbooks and ignore the boys. EVERYBODY wants to be loved. There is NOTHING wrong with wanting this. It’s how that love is expressed, how that relationship works, which is the issue.
Some simply don’t KNOW anything about sex or contraception – the people who should have explained (parents, teachers) – HAVE NOT DONE SO. A once-off conversation is not enough. Every single one of those colourful blocks on the picture below needs to be discussed in detail. Over and over again. Questions need to be anticipated and answered truthfully, without judgment. Information needs to offered continually, even without being asked. ESPECIALLY when she hasn’t asked.
Not using contraception properly: again, parents, teachers, health care providers: are you being explicit about how it works? Are you ALL being realistic about what she will be able to make work successfully, in practice?
Contraception fails sometimes. It happens. Has anyone told her what causes failures?
Temporary lapses in judgment also happen. People make mistakes sometimes, which have lasting consequences. Cover all the bases above and those lapses will be less likely to happen, but you can never eradicate them completely. Because humans are human.
“It won’t happen to me” – I’m invincible. A momentary lapse is one thing. An ongoing attitude of not caring about consequences is another issue altogether and is a sign of some serious problems in thinking. Parents, teachers – anyone with access to teenagers who think this way need to be talking constantly about how NOBODY is bulletproof.
These are just some of the reasons. For every teen pregnancy statistic, there’s a human being with one or more of these reasons all tangled up in a messy web of what’s called LIFE. Nothing is simple, nothing is black or white.
So, by all means – talk education. Talk self-esteem. But never forget who you’re talking TO. Human beings with their own circumstances, personalities, brains, lives and feelings.
Some of my thoughts below, handily colour-coded. Click on pic to view larger image