Why invest in education?
It's called “teen pregnancy” - pregnancy of women under the age of 20.
The United States has the highest adolescent fertility rate among all western countries. The teen pregnancy rate has declined by 63 percent in less than 25 years, from 117.6 pregnancies per 1,000 females ages 15-19 in 1990 to 43.4 in 2013. Still, 3 in 10 teen American girls will get pregnant at least once before age 20. That’s nearly 750,000 teen pregnancies every year.
What are the causes?
I am here to expose many of them. First is the lack of information. In fact, even though sex may no longer be the elephant in the room, proper education about sexuality, anatomy and reproducing isn’t provided. As recently as yesterday I was reading a tweet where a man believed that all woman had “a well shaved vagina”! Ignorance of the body does not prevent the practice, leading to a scourge. While the act itself is no longer taboo, everything around it seems to be, including its consequences. How come you cannot discuss STD's or pregnancy with your partner, your friends or your family? Too many things stay hidden, especially from teens.
And even when some initiatives are taken (association, sexual class), “teens today get much more information about sexually transmitted diseases in school health-ed classes than they do about pregnancy prevention,” according to Dr. Philippa Gordon, a pediatrician. Also, the inadequacy of access to those services, or even to contraception, is a real struggle. The costs, for example, are astronomical. But also there is the fact that half of the American states no longer allow minors to obtain a contraceptive method without parental authorization [Guttmacher Institute, 2012b; Hall, Moreau and Trussell, 2011].
Another cause is the undeniable fact that so much sexual violence, rape in particular, is happening everyday! However, another form of sexual violence which is sadly still present, more subtle and less studied, is the social pressure to marry. In fact, many girls end up in relationships under the pressure of their family and their community. In some cultures, being a spouse and a mother is seen as the most valuable achievement for a woman, and must happen while she’s young. And even in the most liberal community, just being in couple can lead women to comply with the requirements of their partner, often leading to unprotected sexual activities.
Just as many consequences and risks
Pregnancy can be both physically and mentally difficult, but at a young age the danger increases. In addition to the risks of maternal mortality linked to pregnancy or childbirth, young mothers are also likely to contract sexually transmitted infections and to develop psychological effects detrimental to their health (depression, stress, etc.).
Pregnancy can also impact the social life of pregnant teenagers. For many young girls, getting pregnant during school makes them at risk of being exposed to significant social sanctions, which result in isolation, loss of self-esteem and depression. Teen moms suffer a stigma, putting them at a higher risk of facing mental health issues. That's what Christina Martinez illustrated as she shared her experience in her Seleni article about mental health. "You made your bed, now lie in it." That was the kind of response she heard when she shared her feelings of overwhelming sadness after giving birth to her first child while still in high school.
Those social sanctions include school dropout. In many countries, early pregnancy in adolescence very often leads to expulsion from school and the family home, thereby leading to the dropout of the girls concerned, stopping their studies. This can lead to precarization of the mother and her child. Parenthood is the main reason behind teen girls dropping out of school. In the U.S., more than 50% of teen mothers never graduate from high school.
What can be done?
Throughout the creation of this blog, I asked myself this question: “Why, with the overexposure of sex, has this not resulted in the same approach concerning the way to go about it? Or to simply protect yourself?” Like why has information (about sexuality, contraception, pregnancy) not been as democratized as sex is nowadays?
We need to be able to educate ourselves and the youth on those matters. On my journey of discovering, I learned about pregnancy and stuff like armpit breast milk! I realized that there are just too many things we don’t know about it. But also, like most things, sex isn't just about sex. We need girls to be able to make decisions for themselves, to be able to say no. “No, I don't want to”or “No, I want to use protection” or “I want you to participate in the fees." We need girls (and boys for that matter) to be fully aware, before and after the conception!
I feel like we also need support! Raising a kid is complex, no matter the situation. But obviously it can become a real struggle at a younger age. Teenagers are often left to themselves - no money, nowhere to live, no assistance. We need investment in programs, in associations, in schools. So yes, make teens more responsible - but also parents, teachers, and society!
That way we can end the stigma, and give back to women their powers, and their choices!