May is apparently Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. At least, that's according to the Candies Foundation , who are currently running a huge, celebrity-endorsed, campaign to decrease teenage pregnancies. There are numerous problems with this US-based campaign, which went global with the #noteenpreg hashtag on Twitter. The fact is that the Candies Foundation believes in abstinence-based education, which is the least effective method of preventing teen pregnancy. They do also teach "safe sex" but let's be honest here; safe sex is almost always based on heteronormative penis-in-vagina sex and fails to acknowledge both the full spectrum of sex and sexuality but also is almost always directed at teenage girls. The Candies Foundation hasn't strayed far from this construct.
The campaign ignores real analysis of the causes of teenage pregnancy. The fact that the organisation, who aren't exactly pro-choice, have managed to line up a bunch of celebrities to "endorse" them proves nothing. After all, there's no such thing as bad publicity even if you hire Chris Brown, a young musician with a conviction for domestic violence and a penchant for bragging about having sex as a teenager to endorse your campaign. I'm not quite sure what Chris Brown's involvement is supposed to prove: that it's wrong for teenage girls to get pregnant but it's okay for teenage boys to seriously physically assault their girlfriends?
It's yet another scare-tactic campaign that ignores the social and political realities of the lack of sex education, access to contraception and abortion, poverty, education, class, sexuality and race. It focuses on shaming teenage girls and ignores the lack of affordable childcare and support which would help those teenage girls who do get pregnant make the correct decision for themselves: whether that be abortion, adoption or raising the child themselves. The campaign ignores the pornification of culture that tells teenage girls that their only value is in their "fuckability". Basically, it ignores the realities of the lives of teenage girls.
The problem with these types of campaigns is that they simply fail to examine the lack of a welfare state and the lack of universal healthcare in the US. Universal healthcare and a real welfare state are the two most important factors in not only preventing teenage pregnancy but also ensuring that those teenagers who do become parents will not have their life chances dramatically altered.
What this campaign really lacks, and what all campaigns to end teenage pregnancy lack, is any mention of teenage boys. The last time I checked, there's only been one recorded case of Immaculate Conception and even that one's fairly controversial. Yet, these campaigns invariably focus on teenage girls ruining their lives by having babies; ruining their lives by being unable to attend university or hold down a job. There is no mention of teenage boys being unable to attend university or hold down jobs. There are no mentions of teenage boys being required to pay child maintenance to financially support a child they helped create. Instead, the focus is on shaming and blaming teenage girls for having the temerity to have sex and get pregnant. Why aren't we discussing the issue of teenage sex and pregnancy with boys? Why aren't we holding teenage boys equally responsible for the consequences of sex? Why are teenage girls becoming mothers a problem if teenage boys becoming fathers is never addressed?
We already know the causes of teenage pregnancy and, yet, the UK is following the US's path with parents demanding the right to prevent their children learning about real sexual education. The destruction of the welfare state and universal healthcare is already having serious detrimental effects on families. The failure of colleges and universities to be family-friendly already decreases the ability of young mothers from attending university. The lack of affordable childcare and the increase in student loans do the same. Do we really want the UK to follow the pattern set out by the US when we already have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy in Europe?
Teenage pregnancy is only a problem if we create it as one. No one wants 13 and 14 year old girls to get pregnant because of the physical damage pregnancy can cause on such young bodies but teenagers have sex. It doesn't matter how many times we tell them not to, teenagers still have sex. Shaming them with huge celebrity-endorsed campaigns, which ignore teenage boys, won't change that.
We need to fundamentally restructure our country and rebuild the welfare state and the NHS. We need nationalised childcare. We need a child maintenance enforcement program that actually works since one of the biggest indicators of child poverty is being raised in a single parent household where the other parent, invariably the father, refuses to pay child maintenance. Why aren't we holding teenage boys financially accountable for the child they helped create? Why aren't we holding the families of those teenage boys accountable whilst the boys are still in secondary school? If we don't hold adult men accountable for financially providing for their children, why would teenage boys think they should be too?
We need to start talking about sex properly. We cannot allow families demand the right to opt out of sex education on behalf of their children. We certainly should not be letting men with convictions for domestic violence preach to our teenage daughters about "healthy relationships" and sex.
We need to start talking properly to teenage boys about sex and parenting.
We need to stop shaming teenage girls.
More importantly, we need to ensure that teenage boys are held equally responsible teenage pregnancy.
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