Wednesday 21 July 2010

Outbreak! The teen pregnancy "epidemic"?

The brilliant Choice USA just tweeted (not sure what I mean? Check out our Twitter account!) a Huffington Post article about the myth of the teenage pregnancy epidemic by its director, Kierra Johnson. The article itself is worth a read, not least because of brilliant bits like this:
“Teenage pregnancy isn't the epidemic. The lack of information and support for people to make healthy decisions about their lives is the true epidemic. The culture of shame and scapegoating around sex is the real problem. And this epidemic crosses generations, with young people feeling the brunt of it.”

In the parlance of our times, word.

Although the author refers to many uniquely American phenomena (the abstinence-promoting billboard, for example. A favourite in my home state of Wisconsin informs the driver that true love waits, mother is heart of the family, and you should choose life – 3 messages for the price of one!), the article makes several points that apply to the UK, too. The most interesting and important point the author makes – what is the “problem” with teens having sex? – I couldn’t articulate better.

I think there are several reasons why the idea of the teenage pregnancy “epidemic” is a pretty useless concept. As Johnson points out, it’s not sex or pregnancy that are inherently the problem, it’s a lack of informed choice and support. A more prosaic but nonetheless important reason this “epidemic” is nonsense is the myth about the rates of teenage pregnancy. At a training on Monday, I was reminded of this issue when some participants referred to the “rising teenage pregnancy rate”. Whether or not you think teenage pregnancy is a “problem”, the teenage conception rate in the UK has not risen over the last ten years. In fact, it's fallen. Unfortunately, though, constant media panic about teenage pregnancy and perennial “Teens have sex!” headlines lead even sexual health professionals (I was guilty of this too, trainees, until I started at EFC- I’m not picking on you!) to believe the rates are higher than ever. In fact, teens today are far less likely to become pregnant than they were in Britain in the 1950s. So whenever anyone gets nostalgic for the alleged golden era of “family values” I suggest s/he a) watch
Mad Men and think about what it was like to be gay, female, black, or anyone other than Don Draper and b) consider that “kids these days” are just like “kids those days”.

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