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 #noteenpreg hashtag on Twitter. The fact that the Candies Foundation do believe 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 haven’t strayed far from this construct.
Basically, the campaign is lacking in any 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 artist 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 and race. It focuses on shaming teenage girls instead of examining the lack of a welfare state and the lack of universal healthcare in the US. It ignores the fact that abstinence-only education is increasingly common in US schools. It ignores the lack of access to contraception. It ignores the lack of access to abortions. It ignores the lack of affordable childcare. It ignores the pornification of culture which tells teenage girls that their only value is in their “fuckability”. It ignores the realities of the lives of teenage girls.
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.
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 will have serious detrimental effects on families. The failure of colleges and universities to be family-friendly will prevent teenage girls from attending university as does the lack of affordable childcare.
Teenage pregnancy is only a problem if we create it as one. No one wants 13 and 14 year 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 daycare. 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.
We don’t need to shame teenage girls.
We need to start talking about sex properly and, not letting men with convictions for domestic violence teach our daughters what “safe sex” is a good place to start.
We need to start talking properly to teenage boys about sex and parenting; not just teenage girls.