Today is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, which is a day to raise awareness about this problem and what we can do to try to prevent it. Unfortunately, Bristol Palin, 18, has been appearing as a “teen ambassador” on TV and for events on this day. While in an interview on the Fox News Channel several months ago, Bristol said very clearly that teen abstinence is “not realistic at all,” now she has recanted that statement. This morning she said on Good Morning America that abstinence is the only effective way to prevent pregnancy, and that she is “promoting abstinence.” She refuses to say publicly that she and other teens must use birth control to prevent pregnancy! In a post I wrote here in February, I said that I certainly hope that Bristol does not try to speak to teens about pregnancy prevention until she learns how to discuss the use of birth control and condoms. It has been clear for months that she refuses to educate teens in a constructive way, so why was she invited by pregnancy prevention groups to be a spokesperson for this day?! On this National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, my message is to Bristol: Please use birth control effectively, and teach others about it, too. And please stop telling teens that abstinence is the only way, because that is exactly what led to your unplanned pregnancy.
There are too many misconceptions about Plan B, and I’d like to correct some of them.
Yesterday when I appeared on CNN Headline News, I heard many misconceptions about Plan B — also called EC, Emergency Contraception, and The Morning After Pill — and about what it means for our government to allow 17 year olds to buy it without a prescription. Here are the top misconceptions, and then the realities. (more…)
Last year, when research from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) found that there was an increase in the teen birth rate for the first time since 1991, we were not sure if that was simply a blip in the research. Also, despite that 3% increase, it still marked a lower rate for the US when compared with fifteen or twenty years ago. The teen birth rate had declined 34% between 1991 and 2005. Now we find that in addition to the 2005-2006 increase, it has also increased 1% between between 2006 and 2007. An increase two years in a row is cause for concern. Is the problem lack of comprehensive sexuality education? In part. Is the oversexualized media to blame? Could be. (But according to research, probably not.) Most of all, when teens get pregnant their parents had some role in the matter. Parents are the primary sex educators of their children. Through conversations and examples, they learn values and behaviors. I’ll be talking more about this on TV over the next couple of days. So stay tuned. Meanwhile, here’s a link to the NYTimes article about the new NCHS findings, including that the overall birth rate for all ages was the highest in ever 2007 — a true baby boom.
Bristol Palin, 18, decided to step into the spotlight this week with an interview by Greta Van Susteren on the Fox News Channel. Bristol claims that she wants to be an advocate for teen pregnancy prevention, saying, “I hope that people learn from my story and just, like, I don’t know, prevent teen pregnancy, I guess.” She says that she thinks teens should wait ten years to get pregnant, because, “it’s so much easier if you’re married and if you have a house and a career and — it’s just so much easier.” She adds that teen pregnancy is not, “a situation that you want to strive for.”
Bristol says that teen abstinence is “not realistic at all,” which shows progress in the political media discussions that began when her pro-abstinence mother, Gov. Sarah Palin, confirmed then-17 year old Bristol’s pregnancy last year. However, in the Fox News interview, when asked about her views about birth control Bristol declined to comment. She seems to want to be an advocate for teens avoiding pregnancy without explaining how they can do this. She also perpetuated the myth that teens today are more interested in having pre-marital sex than teens in previous generations. In fact, according to sex research for at least four decades about 95% of Americans have been having premarital sex.
Perhaps Van Susteren made Bristol defensive by asking her a personal question about why or if she did not use contraception (which she declined to answer). But, despite that, when asked how she could change the fact that teens have sex and may get pregnant, all Bristol could muster was a statement that she as a teen mom can scare teens into not having sex. No mention of the need for teens to use birth control or more effective sexual decision making methods, or for them to have comprehensive sex ed or better communication with their parents, or any other factors that truly could help teens avoid pregnancy.
I certainly hope that Bristol does not try to speak to teens about pregnancy prevention until she learns how to discuss the use of birth control and condoms. Teens may be positively influenced by hearing about the profound challenges of teen parenthood from a teen mother. However, only telling teens how tough it is to be a teen mom won’t keep teen sperm from uniting with teen eggs.
Teen pregnancy is not more accepted today than ever before, but it certainly seems to be sanctioned by our political candidates.
It was announced today that Vice Presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin’s 17-year-old daughter, Bristol, is five months pregnant. According to The New York Times, Sarah Palin said, “Bristol and the young man she will marry are going to realize very quickly the difficulties of raising a child, which is why they will have the love and support of our entire family.”
Presidential Candidate Senator Barack Obama seemingly condoned this teen pregnancy, saying: “My mother had me when she was 18.”
Obama also said, “How family deals with issues and teenage children – that shouldn’t be the topic of our politics.” His remark does not alter the reality that teen pregnancy is now most certainly a topic of our politics. When a hurricane occurs along side a political campaign, it becomes a topic of our politics. Similarly, when the “abstinence-only” VP candidate’s teenage daughter’s unwed pregnancy is announced during a political campaign… this is a political issue. I hope it opens up the conversation about the causes, consequences, and possible methods of preventing teen pregnancy, as well as the issue of sex education.
Comprehensive sexuality education should be funded and/or mandated, and the government must stop funding abstinence only sex education. Also, political parents should be able to say that Americans should talk to their teens about how to prevent pregnancy. Research has found that when parents talk to their teens about sexual choices, values, and birth control, then teens are more likely to delay sex and less likely to have an unintended pregnancy. Either Bristol Palin didn’t know how to use birth control, or she didn’t care to use it. This is related to how she was parented, and what she may or may not have been taught by her mother about sex, love, and life. I find it disturbing that thus far there have been no statements from the political campaigns about sex education, parenting, or about the fact that teen pregnancy is preventable.
Jamie Lynn Spears, the Gloucester Girls, fictional Juno, and now Bristol Palin. Will spotlighting another high profile (“celebrity”) teen pregnancy, help or hinder the conversation about teen pregnancy, sex education and parental education? More of my thoughts on this are here and here. Teen pregnancy has been a very public issue in 2008. It’s sad that another teen in the public eye had to become pregnant in order for this to become a political issue. It’s worse that politicians are still silent about the most important issues of teen pregnancy.
Bristol Palin and Trig Palin: Photo from The New York Times
Posted by Dr. Sari Locker
In addition to telling me that there was no “pregnancy pact,” they also told me that there was no “homeless guy” impregnating the girls of Gloucester.
I recently talked to two pregnant teenagers from Gloucester, MA and the mother of one of the girls (who had also been a teen mother). We discussed their sex ed, sexual choices, and their feelings about being pregnant (and in the public eye). I also asked about the babies’ fathers… and THE question that many had wanted answered, but no one seemed to have asked. Yes, I asked about the “24-year-old homeless guy.”
You surely remember the Time magazine article that claimed that teens were trying to get pregnant as part of a “pregnancy pact” at Gloucester High School (GHS). In it, the principal was quoted as saying that they, “found out one of the fathers is a 24-year-old homeless guy.” Well, the pregnant girls from Gloucester who I met told me that they were not trying to have babies, and they were not seeking out random men to impregnate them. They had boyfriends their age, and their pregnancies occurred because they didn’t use birth control — not because they wanted babies. They did not understand how the “homeless guy” rumor got started, or why the principal would have stated it to a reporter. They said very definitively that the other girls in their school also got pregnant “by mistake” from boys their age – boyfriends, not homeless men. Also noteworthy, they confirmed that some of the 18 pregnant girls have gotten abortions.
Of course, I must emphasize that I am reporting what two pregnant Gloucester teens told me. I did not talk to all 18 girls, and no one will truly know who got pregnant from whom and why, except each of girls who got pregnant and the guys who got them pregnant.
The press latched on to the “pregnancy pact” story because America loves a “shocking teen sex story.” The reality of the Gloucester pregnancies may be far more mundane, but no less troubling. One of the Gloucester girls told me that she, “didn’t think that pregnancy would happen,” to her. She said that she knew about birth control, but she and her boyfriend didn’t think they needed to “bother with it” — even though they did not want a baby. It’s that type of denial that is often at the root of teen pregnancy. Other reasons commonly cited for why teens get pregnant include: perpetuating a cycle of teen motherhood when their parents had them as a teen; when parents do not encourage them to wait or don’t teach them any values about sex; and when the teen does not have future goals, dreams or aspirations to provide an incentive for why they would want to delay pregnancy until much later in their lives. The girls from Gloucester who I spoke with fit these models.
Will there be a chance to focus the media’s attention on the realities at Gloucester High School? Is there hope that Gloucester can teach teens to wait to have sex and to use birth control when they have sex? Gloucester is a small, predominately Catholic, blue-collar community that seems reluctant to help teens get birth control and learn how and why to use it. The town is organizing “listening posts” to get the community talking about teen pregnancy, but they are not planning to get teens and their parents together to talk about values about sex. It is imperative that parents and teens discuss these issues. If GHS would let me facilitate these conversations, you know I would. Though now the school is not open to having a sex educator visit (especially one who works on television). In fact, there have been many health educators who have recently advised GHS about how to provide access for their students to contraception and how to implement comprehensive sex education, but they have yet to begin these programs. (GHS curently offers sex ed to freshman, but it is not a comprehensive course, and is not offered after freshman year.) To understand some of the reaction to these issues in Gloucester, check out their local paper, including the recent editorial written by the school track coach, in which he equates condom distribution to giving drugs or “alcoholic beverages to the students, and… a “safe” place to booze it up, such as in the high school field house.”
The Gloucester Fisherman, and effective birth control.
Posted by Dr. Sari Locker