On average, over 37% of girls aged 15-19 will become pregnant; 77% of these pregnancies are unplanned. With nearly 40% of young women becoming unexpectedly pregnant during some of the hardest years of their lives, it’s surprising just how much shame and ridicule they receive from society–a society that tells them that sex is bad, refuses to inform them about contraceptives and tries to deny abortion access to them and countless other women across the country. Shaming pregnant teens is like calling out the kettle, when society–America–is the pot.
It’s easier to shame young mothers than to support them. After all, it’s their fault for getting pregnant at such a young age, right? Wrong. No teenaged girl wants to be pregnant, so she’s not actively trying to get pregnant. Teenage pregnancy is the result of poor sex education, lack of accessibility to contraceptives and pressure by peers to have sex at a young, naïve age.
Abstinence-Only Sex Education
If I had a dime for every time I talked about the lack of benefits derived from abstinence-only sex education in schools, I would have–well–a lot of dimes. It’s sickening, really. Even more so, it’s revolting how many states don’t have a requirement in place to teach teens sex education at all. In fact, only 33 states require both HIV and sex education and then only 27 of these same states require that the education, by law, meets general requirements. This means that 17 states do not have a law requiring sex education to be taught in schools. Only 18 states require that their sex education curriculum teaches teens about different forms of contraceptives, while 37 different states require that teens are taught about abstinence.
Seventeen states do not have a law requiring that sex education be taught in schools to teens and only 18 states require that sex education programs teach teens about contraceptives.
While abstinence remains the only form of birth control that’s 100% effective, it’s proved to be ineffective for the nearly 40% of teens actually having sex. With a shockingly small number of 18 states requiring education on contraceptives, how can we expect teens to know how to properly use them while, inevitably, having sex?
And it’s not surprising that the highest rate of teen pregnancies occur in states that teach abstinence-only sex education. It’s even more predictable that all of these states fall in the South or the Rust Belt, more conservative areas of the United States. Refusing to inform teenagers about their bodies, sexuality and various forms of birth control only contributes to unexpected teenage pregnancies.
To learn more about comprehensive sex education and its benefits, click here.
Note: the wonderful state of North Carolina does not require that sex education be unbiased or uninfluenced by religion. In fact, it is required that the state teaches that a “mutually faithful monogamous heterosexual relationship in the context of marriage is the best lifelong means of avoiding sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”
Parents That Don’t Inform
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I didn’t receive “the talk” from my dad until after he knew I was sexually active. And I never received any “talk” from my mother. It’s an awkward topic that no parent or child wants to discuss together, but it needs to be discussed. Parents need to be informed about their kids, kids need to be informed about their parents’ expectations and everyone needs to be informed about healthy sex.
Parents that neglect to inform their children about sex are neglecting their responsibilities as a parent.
Parents that neglect to inform their children about sex are neglecting their responsibilities as a parent. I can’t begin to stress the importance of teaching kids about sex because of one simple thing (mentioned in the previous point): you just can’t rely on school systems to adequately teach kids how to have safe sex. If you want your child to be properly informed about safe sex, you’ll just have to do it the old-fashioned way, and do it yourself.
Note: I wasn’t taught to pee after sex until AFTER I’d had my first UTI and visit to the emergency room. Prevent this, by informing your kids about healthy sex practices as soon as you can.
Lack of Accessibility to Contraception
Even if teens are given a good sex education, actually acquiring contraception can be a pain. For example, in North Carolina (yes, there’s a theme here), it’s actually illegal that contraceptives be given out or made available on school property. This means that students without the financial or transportive means are not able to acquire things like condoms if they’re having sex and want to protect themselves. Essentially, the state is denying health benefits to its teens by limiting their accessibility to birth control.
North Carolina is denying health benefits to its teens by limiting their accessibility to birth control.
Furthermore, acquiring contraceptives–especially for non-driving teens–can prove to be quite challenging. Not all towns have health departments that give out free/reduced condoms, and going on birth control, for many young girls, can be costly and challenging. Coming from a small, conservative town, I’ve had more than one friend have their doctor try to scare them out of birth control, even if they were sexually active.
Denying teens access to birth control is heavily contributing to teenage pregnancies throughout America.
Teen Pressure to Have Sex
If anyone tries to insist that teenagers today aren’t pressured to be sexually active, they’re living within a lie, or some kind of twisted ignorance. The pressure to be sexy, to be sexually “acceptable”, to simply have sex is very prominent in teenage age groups, especially in high school. Having just finished high school about a year ago, I can contest to this.
Teens feel an extensive amount of pressure to be sexually active, even at a young age.
Having been a 15 year-old girl, I still understand the pressure to want to give anything to a boy for him to like me. The social pressure is high to be in a “mature” relationship, especially when having a boyfriend is basically “everything” in high school. With the heightened sexual pressure in high school and the hypersexual environment that most teens are exposed to in our modern-day culture, it’s no surprise that teens feel an extensive amount of pressure to be sexually active, even at a young age. If they aren’t properly informed about sex, this can easily lead to unexpected pregnancies.
Abortion Being Out-of-the-Question
Thankfully, North Carolina’s abortion laws aren’t as strict as other states’. If you’re under the age of 18, however, abortion is basically out-of-the-question. Women under the age of 18 have to have parental consent in order to have an abortion performed. Whereas this may not seem like a huge issue, it can be.
There are girls who have been threatened, beaten and kicked out of their home for an unexpected teen pregnancy. Just ask any nurse at your local health department, and they probably have terrifying stories. How are women, like these, who have no financial or emotional support and no guardian, able to get an abortion? Court orders are possible, but scarce.
Parents can be very unsupportive and, in some cases, dangerous, when it comes to their teen becoming pregnant.
Even if a teen is able to have access to an abortion (with parental consent), doctors still have the ability to choose not to perform one. In more conservative states and areas, this can pose as a large obstacle for teen girls.
Yes, abortion shouldn’t be the go-to option. But when a teenage girl experiences an unexpected pregnancy–caused by her lack of knowledge about sex itself–and her small, immature body, mind and life can’t handle a child growing inside of her, she should have the option to terminate the pregnancy. At the age of 16, women should be able to terminate a pregnancy without parental consent required, because parents can be very unsupportive and, in some cases, dangerous, when it comes to their teen becoming pregnant.
It sucks enough being a teen, now imagine being a pregnant teen. A pregnant teen that has to continue normally through life as if having a child at 15, in a first-world country, is normal. Imagine having to ask to go to the bathroom in school to–in one quick, typically spur-of-the-moment decision–having to raise a child. Pregnant teens are under more stress than a typical pregnant mother. They’re under more physical stress (their bodies aren’t quite equipped to handle a pregnancy), financial stress (they weren’t financially prepared for this), emotional stress (everyone’s disappointed, and the boyfriend doesn’t typically stay around for too long) and psychological stress (all of these things combined can really mess a person up). Basically, it doesn’t take an episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager to show just how stressful it is to be a pregnant teen.
It doesn’t take an episode of The Secret Life of the American Teenager to show just how stressful it is to be a pregnant teen.
So, with this in mind, why would you waste your breath shaming a young girl who doesn’t know any better? Why will you tsk-tsk, rather than buy her diapers? Why will you point and stare, rather than smile and offer assistance? Why will you call her a slut, when she was only 50% of the equation?
Teenagers have to put up with social pressure from their peers, parents and society. Pregnant teenagers have to put up with a heightened amount of social pressure and stigma from their peers, parents and society.
My real question is this: why are we blaming the pregnant girls when we should be blaming the society? The society that has taught us that pregnant teens are whores, stupid, irresponsible and immature. The society that refuses to inform teens about sex, refuses to give them access to contraception and refuses to answer their questions. The society that fuels slut-shaming and, at the same time, denies health and education rights to its children. It’s society that we should be shaming, not the product of the society.
Photo Courtesy of: DanEvans