Written by RSEI Educator | Published May 30th, 2019

Here at the Responsible Sex Education Institute we are inspired by all that is being done to reshape the conversation around what has been known as “Teen Pregnancy Prevention”.  Specifically, the work Young Women United has done is really breaking apart the myths that permeate the conversation of “Teen Pregnancy Prevention.” By doing a quick google search, article after article claimied to dispel the “Facts and Myths of teen pregnancy” but garnered disappointing and problematic results. The myths all focus on when a person can get pregnant (Myth: A person can’t get pregnant the first time they have sex) and the facts are centered around the constraints a young or unintended pregnancy could put on a person. In addition to these articles, multiple ads for LARCs (Long-Acting-Reversible-Contraceptives) were also among the first results. This is blatant messaging that ties into a long history of denying people, especially young people and people of color, bodily autonomy when it comes to pregnancy and parenting.

Many teen pregnancy prevention programs unknowingly utilize shame and scare tactics to reduce rates of pregnancy among young people/parents. The use of these programs came about by funding that was offered to programs that delay the onset of sexual activity and increases use of condom and contraceptives. These are the two main ways effectiveness has historically been measured for curricula. The idea was that these programs would thereby prevent or lower rates of teen/unintended pregnancy. Much of the shame and stigmatizing of young parents is unintentional and/or done without realizing the negative impact it has on young families. These programs are distinct from sexual risk avoidance programs which are more intentional with their uses of shame and fear (for more info on harmful sex ed programs see our March 2019 Blog). Even without malintent, these programs can be harmful because they minimize the protective factors and resilience of young people as well as their ability to make informed decisions about their bodies and their lives. It also effectively worsens health outcomes for young families, as they are shamed and stigmatized rather than being supported and connected to resources. For this month’s blog, we decided to go through Young Women United’s Dismantling Teen Pregnancy 2016 report that was mentioned in our Webinar “Is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Problematic?” (We highly recommend your read the report and watch the webinar! 😊) and pulled out some quick and easy changes that sex educators can implement today to improve their programs.

  • Avoid saying Teen Parents and instead start saying Young Parents or Young Families.
  • Move from publicizing Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and instead promote  #SexEdForAll Month.
    • This shift moves away from stigma and shame-based approaches to reduce pregnancy rates among young people and instead focuses on providing accurate and inclusive education resources for everyone, including young parents. #SexEdForAll  promotes body autonomy and supports all young people in their decision making.
  • Educate yourself on the experiences of young parents and families: #NoTeenShame #RespectYoungFams
  • Use gender neutral language. This redirects conversations around pregnancy away from heteronormative assumptions about young parents.
  • Highlight the strengths not the “cost” of teen pregnancy. Often the conversation around young parenting ignores pre-existing and systematic poverty and essentially blames these bigger socio-economic conditions on the event of pregnancy.
    • Avoid terms like “poor outcomes”. Parenting can offer adaptive and protective factors for young people. “The key to improving the outcomes that are presently correlated with but not caused by adolescent childbearing is working towards undoing socio-economic inequities.”
  • Be heard! Encourage policy makers to focus on bettering young people/parents’ access to resources. Let’s help to elevate the voices of young parents and young families – they know best what they need and what policies or processes have been most harmful/impactful for them.
  • Avoid developmental comparisons or “teen brain” comments (e.g. young parents do not have the developmental capacity to parent)
    • Many young parents, especially those living in multi-generational households, have been helping to raise/support their young siblings, nieces, nephews etc., so assuming they don’t have the skills or capacity (or understanding of what being a parent means/takes) is often inaccurate.
    • Young parenting was incredibly common and normalized in the 1950s and earlier.
  • Avoid making assumptions on how a pregnancy will impact a person socially, emotionally, financially, academically, or physically.
    • Move away from the assumption that all young parents are the result of an unintended or unwanted pregnancy. “Becoming pregnant and deciding to parent can be a rational decision, particularly given a context of systemic deprivation and disadvantage where conditions for economic progress are stifling and/or nearly impossible.”
  • Know your State’s laws. Some states limit access to prenatal care for minors. By understanding how young people can access contraceptive, abortion, and prenatal services we are increasing their access to informed decision making.
  • Keep learning. As educators it is important that we continue to be critical of what we “know” so that we can stay up to date with best practices and provide education that truly is inclusive of all people. Read articles, watch webinars, attend trainings, and seek support by texting SEXED to 57890 when questions come up.