Health classes across the country, many parents and MTV reality television shows, like Teen Mom, send out the same, forceful message to teenagers: Don’t get pregnant!
Lots of organizations, including Answer, recognize May as National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. It’s definitely important that anyone who is or plans on becoming sexually active knows how to prevent pregnancy.
At the same time, having a month focused on preventing pregnancy puts a huge stigma on teenage sexuality and makes sex seem like something scary and shameful. Overwhelmingly, sex is taught about in the same way that drug and alcohol prevention is: with fear-driven warnings about how young people’s lives can be ruined if they take part. Sexual health curricula for teens often forgo mentioning that becoming sexually active is in any way pleasurable or a normal part of growing up, and instead teenagers mostly hear repeated warnings about the potential negative repercussions of sex (such as unintentionally becoming pregnant.) Learning information about the seriousness of being sexually active is vital, but a focus on danger and prevention pins a scarlet letter to teens who are already sexually active or young parents. It also reinforces the idea that sexuality is illicit and taboo.
More than that, focusing only on the risks of pregnancy when teaching teens about sex is way too limited. Teen pregnancy rates have actually been dropping in recent decades, and while there is absolutely more work that needs to be done related to the issue, there are so many other aspects of teenage sexuality that should be talked about just as much as how to prevent a pregnancy. Plenty of people think that all there is to learn about sexuality is how to put a condom on a banana, but sexuality education should include so much more. Rarely do teenagers hear about what to do if they face abuse in their relationship, or where to go if they need to access sexual health services. The process that many teens go through of coming to terms with their gender identity or sexual orientation is rarely talked about by the media, parents or health teachers, and most lesbian, gay or bi teens don’t learn about relationships between same-sex couples at all unless they turn to the Internet.
The idea of having a month focused on teenage pregnancy prevention comes from a good place, and teens should understand what they’re getting into if they want to have sex. In addition to this, sexuality is something that is fun and healthy to explore and learn about, and all parts of it should be discussed more openly so we are informed and prepared. It’s time everyone began thinking of sexuality as a normal part of life, not as a danger.