While Juno is trading a hospital gown for Oscar couture and Jamie Lynn is dodging photographers in Louisiana, the American public is grappling with the new visibility of the teen baby bump and turning back to the media for answers.
Actual teen voices, the only ones that can really tell us how to reign in our newly rising birth rates, have been conspicuously absent from the discourse. Seventeen magazine and the Candies Foundation are attempting to remedy this with the release of a new study that showcases what young women are thinking, or at least telling pollsters, about sex and the new baby boom.
I've definitely had my issues with Seventeen magazine in the past, and as a young sex educator am always a little leery of studies like this one, mostly because they allow adult readers to generalize from the statistics without being exposed to the intricate, convoluted reasons why things are the way they are. But this time, Seventeen got it right: the issue, out on newsstands, talks respectfully and frankly to young women, in a space where they are all eyes, about sex and the real world -- and allows us to learn a few things in the process.
The study illustrates one point really well: young people are confused by the messages they are getting, or not getting, about sex. The most alarming statistic out of this study, to me at least, is that HALF of all the teen girls surveyed said it was possible they would get pregnant in the next five years. Possible? As in, you aren't sure, but maybe? That's terrifying. The uncertainty speaks to a lack of sex education in schools and is also indicative of the general disempowerment young people feel about sex and their bodies because we won't talk with them about it in a positive, informative way, even at home.
Continuing that theme, two out of three girls told researchers that they were more worried about STDs than an unplanned pregnancy. Whether that is a result of abstinence-only scare tactics involving pictures of advanced herpes and the like, the social stigma of "catching something," or the current Hollywood trend of glorifying teen motherhood while painting over the challenges, it still means that young women are quite uncertain as to how to protect their bodies.
There is no quick fix, but parents and schools are the obvious candidates when looking for a long-term strategy to prevent teen pregnancy and educate teens about sex and themselves. A refreshing and necessary aide: concerned organizations (in this case, The Candies Foundation) pairing with popular teen media and the experts (Planned Parenthood) to put forth a positive, informative message that has a chance of cutting through all the other stuff teens get every day.