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Teen Health 411
Teen Health 411

Stigma and Teen Pregnancy

Yesterday I spoke with a reporter about teen pregnancy and have been stewing over something she said ever since. She suggested that the "teen pregnancy" media in the last year or so, including films like Knocked Up and Juno, Jamie Lynn's pregnancy, and even the teens making a pact to get pregnant, might actually help reduce the stigma around teen pregnancy, and wouldn't that be a good thing?

The stigma around teen pregnancy facilitates people not talking about sexually active teens, teens not getting in to see doctors so they have adequate prenatal care and real options, illegal abortions, pregnant girls dropping out of school, and a host of consequences to the children of teen parents. None of those things are good - true!

If there was no stigma - if we acknowledged that "it just happens," would people get the information they need about teen pregnancy? Would the fact that teen moms get less education and have babies with more health concerns become everyday knowledge? Would parents talk to kids about the power and pleasure of sex in light of the emotional and physical risks or preventing diseases and unwanted pregnancy? Would schools have day care centers, would employers give extra money to families with small children to cover day care costs? Would teens go to their doctors more frequently and as soon as they start being sexually active - to be screened for infection and start reliable birth control?

I have to say that I am not so sure reducing the stigma is a good thing, or that any of those possible benefits would happen because if the stigma disappeared because as a society we are still in denial about the impact of our sexualized media. We do not want more teens having babies, and we do need parents to talk to their kids about not having sex, using barrier methods to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections if they are sexually active, and going to the doctor to get screened for chlamydia. We need comprehensive sexuality education in schools and for our society to stop sexualizing young girls and being surprised when they become sexually active. We also need the media to be a little more responsible by adding some scenes of regret about not using a barrier method, or better yet - the use of barrier methods! We can make a difference!

Photo credit: Rob!
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About the Author

Dr. Brown is a developmental psychologist specializing in adolescent health.