16&P: Sibling pregnancy patterns, modesty, passivity

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Felicia, a 16 year old with — you guessed it — a douchey boyfriend who is too busy getting tattoos, working (how is he “taking off work” from the barber shop at night? What barber shop is open at 11 p.m?), and hanging out with his friends to emotionally or financially support Felicia and their newborn baby Genesis. Though douchey boyfriend is the most common theme on 16 and Pregnant, this episode had others, too.

1. It runs in the family

Felicia is the youngest of five children, and although she aspires to be the first of her siblings to graduate, she isn’t the first to get pregnant at a young age. “Both my sisters had their kids young, and I remember I was like, ‘That’s not going to be me,'” Felicia said. Teen pregnancy prevalence is not uncommon among siblings, though — younger siblings of teen parents are two to six times more likely to also become pregnant teens.

This makes a lot of sense — if you’re raised in the same environment, it means you’re likely getting the same sex education at school, the same sex education at home, and living in the same family environment. For instance, Felicia’s mom worked nights, which allows for less adult supervision and could have possibly played a role in her kids having a place to have sex.

The problem is that, despite her ambition to not become pregnant, she admits that she only used a condom twice in all the times she had sex with her boyfriend, Alex. It’s difficult to know whether pressure from Alex, the “heat of the moment” syndrome, the “it won’t happen to me” thought process, or simply a lack of sex education contributed to her getting pregnant. It’s hard to believe that her mom wouldn’t make the effort to educate her — especially after two of her daughters were young mothers — but the episode didn’t shed light on that.

2. Modesty ≠ celibacy

Both last week and this week, someone commented that they were shocked these teens were even having sex because they were so modest. “I saw myself as a goody good too,” Felicia said, seemingly insinuating that “goody goods” or modest people don’t have sex. This is a problem because these modest people might not be getting the information they need about sex, both because people assume that someone who is sexually active carries specific personality traits and because Mom and Dad think their little girl is perfectly wholesome, so why put ideas about sex and condoms and birth control in her head?

Last week was different because Brooke’s mom still educated her about sex despite thinking Brooke was very modest, but Felicia’s perceived modesty could be some of the reason that her mom didn’t think to educate her about sex. She might have assumed between watching her sisters get pregnant at a young age and her own reserved personality, Felicia wouldn’t be having sex — but assuming rather than communicating leaves a lot of room for misinterpretation.

Parents likely want to believe that the modest clothes, the nerdy personality, the quiet demeanor, the pile of extra-curriculars, etc. are signs of virginity, but really they are simply personality traits that have nothing to do with determining sex drive. Parents likely use these to convince themselves that they don’t need to have the sex talk, but they are nothing but stereotypes. Virgins can wear short skirts and sexually active teens can wear baggy clothes — hence, profiling is not an effective way to determine which teens are having sex, sexually active teens shouldn’t be the only ones getting educated, and a teen shouldn’t already be having sex before getting sex ed, anyway.

3. A little too passive

One thing that bothered me about Felicia — which bothers me about several of the teen moms I’ve seen on this show — is that they are not open and assertive enough about their boyfriends’ being involved with child care. In Felicia’s case, I initially thought this was because of financial dependence — she told her friends she didn’t know where she’d be without Alex to pay for everything — but after Genesis was born, Felicia complained that Alex wasn’t contributing financially to things for the baby.

Would Alex have been responsive to more assertiveness? I’m not sure — Felicia tried at the end of the episode to get through to him, and nothing was really resolved. But it pained me to see her struggling to finish homework while Alex couldn’t even take 10 minutes to feed Genesis a bottle, and I’m curious if more insistence from Felicia would have made a difference or if the prospect of Alex contributing more financially kept Felicia unhealthily dependent on him.

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