Sunday, April 15, 2012

On Teens Having Sex

While national reports have repeatedly trumpeted the decline in teen pregnancy rates over the last two decades,  someone standing in the hallway during passing period at any high school in a high poverty urban neighborhood could tell you that this problem is still very much with us. As the numbers from the CDC show, the rates of teen pregnancy among Latina and black young women still remains much higher than the national average, and they are nearly twice the rate among white and Asian young women. The correlation between the teen birth rate and poverty--as both a cause of poverty and and effect of poverty--is staggering. Sixty percent of all teen births are from mothers living in poverty. Teen mothers have a 50% chance of graduating from high school, compared to 90% for all women, and children of teen mothers are at higher risk for a whole host of negative outcomes, including dropping out of high school, landing in prison, and becoming young mothers themselves.

Of course, the government is no help, what with the increase in parental consent, anti-Plan-B, and other laws that will undoubtedly result in increased teen pregnancies. The pro-life lobby is particularly guilty. When I drive down the highway, I see countless billboards telling pregnant adolescents not to be scared and to keep their babies. Parents don't help, either. The majority of my students are opposed to abortion under any circumstances, which means prevention has to be the way forward.

Particularly for a female, feminist urban teacher, this is a highly frustrating state of affairs, particularly when you see every day how completely ignorant your students are about sex, contraception, and STIs. Even though students in my district are required by law to receive sex education in 6th grade, I teach plenty of high school students who don't really understand how babies are made. Students should not have sex ed just once. They should have it early and often because, even though some are waiting longer to have sex, teenagers will always have sex. We already know that students need to learn how to reduce fractions or use 's more than once. Why can't we figure this out with sex ed? No matter how much people may think that "pregnancy pacts" and shows like 16 and Pregnant are to blame, the truth is that most teens in urban schools have no idea how easy it is to get pregnant because no one is telling them. When I hear that a student of mine is pregnant, I cry. I have seen teen mothers work hard and fight to finish high school, and I know they can do it. But I also know the extent to which society has failed and betrayed them by letting this happen in the first place.