Archive for the ‘16 and Pregnant’ Category

16&P: Pregnancy, anorexia, and lacking support from mom

May 27, 2011

I haven’t blogged about 16 and Pregnant in a while because the themes have tended to overlap, but this week’s episode proved much different than any previous episode in this or any other season. This week we met Kayla, who not only has an unsupportive mom to deal with, but also an eating disorder that makes her pregnancy very tumultuous.

“Don’t get fat, don’t get fat, you’re gross”

These are the words that Kayla said run through her mind whenever she thinks about eating. Kayla was hospitalized and then diagnosed with anorexia when she was 13 years old, and her pregnancy proved challenging because of the weight she gained. Although doctors were continuously telling her throughout her pregnancy that she was not gaining the appropriate amount of weight, Kayla skipped meals constantly and at one point was hospitalized for pre-term labor relating to dehydration.

Kayla explained to her friends that even though they saw a baby bump when they looked at her, she saw flab and would stand in front of the mirror crying. “Only fat people get stretch marks,” she said, concerned that the stretch marks she was getting were a sign that she was overeating or overweight (stretch marks are a very common side effect of pregnancy and are often even hereditary). She knew that she had to feed the baby, but her eating disorder was always in the back of her mind.

Not only was Kayla struggling with the judgment many teens receive for being pregnant, but she was also concerned about the judgment people would give her because of her weight. She went to the beach with her friends but didn’t want to wear a bikini because she was afraid people would assume she was overweight — and if they did think she was pregnant, then she might receive dirty looks for being a pregnant teen.

Being pregnant changes a woman’s body substantially — hips widen, breasts get larger, and there’s significant weight gain. Average size women should gain about 25 to 35 pounds, underweight women should gain about 28 to 40 pounds, and overweight women should gain about 15 to 25 pounds. For someone who has an eating disorder and has body image issues already, it’s difficult to deal with a rapid, dramatic, and most importantly uncontrollable physical transformation like that. There’s a constant fight between knowing the growing baby needs nourishment and the desire to control the weight gain, and that’s something that is rarely seen on TV but something many women struggle with during pregnancy.

A mom who’s MIA 

And though her friends were supportive and reminded her she obviously had a baby bump and not flab, that she didn’t look fat, and that she needed to feed her baby, she lacked the support system that she yearned for and that would’ve helped her the most: from her mom.

After being hospitalized for dehydration, Kayla saw a nutritionist about her eating habits (this is just one important recommendation for pregnant women who have been diagnosed with eating disorders). The doctor told her not to eat alone because it creates an air of secrecy around eating and because having people eat with you makes it more difficult to avoid meals, and also that they should have family dinners. Kayla reiterated this to her mom, who made one home-cooked meal — and that was it.

Kayla’s mom was constantly spending time with her boyfriend instead of Kayla, and she was constantly avoiding having to play the mother role when it came to helping Kayla through her pregnancy. With an eating disorder alone Kayla needs a solid support system, and adding her pregnancy makes a support system essential.

But Kayla’s mom resists being that support system; she makes lots of promises and then breaks them. Or, like when Kayla asks her mom for advice about her pregnancy, what she should expect, what she needs to buy for the baby, and says she is really overwhelmed, her mom suggests that she visit a support group. Kayla practically begs her mom throughout the episode to help her and offer guidance, but her mom doesn’t want to get involved. “I think it’s all going to fall into place,” her mom replied.

I suspect this is because her mom was a teen mom, and she doesn’t want to be sucked into raising another child. I think she stays with her boyfriend so she can avoid dealing with reality (I’d say she was relieving the glory days she missed out on, but Kayla says her evasive behavior only started after Kayla got pregnant), and I think she wants Kayla to deal with everything without any help because she doesn’t want Kayla to rely on her too much.

This is evident when she says she will take a week off work to help Kayla with newborn Preston — keep in mind Kayla’s boyfriend Mike works and Kayla had a c-section so is initially going to be limited in what she can do — and then decides not to take any time off work and tells Kayla and Mike they’ll figure it out. But part of me also wonders if Kayla’s mom didn’t have it so easy as a teen mom, and she for some morbid reason wants Kayla to suffer, too. Her mom even forces Mike to pay $300 rent even though they pay for everything themselves; are literally left with no money after they buy diapers, wipes, and formula; and Mike living there and working there is the only reason Kayla can take care of the baby all day.

Kayla’s mom isn’t required to do anything, but most of the parents on the show who were also teen parents are sympathetic to their kids’ struggles because they’ve been there before. Kayla expected her mom to be supportive, and her mom even said her “biggest fear is that [Kayla] wouldn’t keep it.” Kayla’s mom plays into a common anti-choice theme here: She doesn’t want Kayla to have an abortion, but she doesn’t offer Kayla much support once she decides to keep the baby. Kayla does live in her mom’s house, but she lacks any other financial, physical, or emotional support from her.

Stepping up as parents

I was wildly impressed with both Kayla’s and Mike’s attitude toward this pregnancy. Unlike some teen moms we’ve seen in past episodes who felt their pregnancies and babies shouldn’t impede on their ability to have a normal teenage life (Farrah and Jenelle come to mind), Kayla was more realistic. “I don’t think I should be able to be a regular teenager. I’m not a regular teenager,” she told her mom. On the aftershow, Kayla said that it’s weird to go out with friends now, saying, “I feel guilty about it, like I shouldn’t even get to have that fun.”

Being a parent doesn’t mean your social life is over or that you don’t deserve to have fun, but Kayla realized early on what some teen parents don’t: Parenting involves some sacrifice. And usually it’s the teen mom always making the sacrifices (dropping out of school, falling behind in school, not going to college), but Mike made a lot of sacrifices and to his credit was one of the most involved and dedicated teen dads I’ve seen on the show. He moved an hour away from home to be with Kayla, skipped college, and was the support system she needed throughout her pregnancy. They aren’t together anymore, but Kayla says he remains very involved with Preston.

The importance of support

Kayla’s episode really highlighted how important a solid support system is. She had a close-knit group of friends who were concerned about her health, and she had a boyfriend who was committed and dedicated to her and their baby. It’s unfortunate that her mom — an important piece to the puzzle — chose to let Kayla fend for herself while she struggled with both pregnancy and anorexia.

And how Kayla’s mom doesn’t see this is beyond me. In fact, at one point, her mom suggests they go on a diet together. Even Kayla looked at her with confusion — her mother, knowing she’s been diagnosed with anorexia, a disease that leaves you starving yourself and not eating enough food, wants to encourage Kayla to focus on losing weight and “portion control”?

Part of combatting an eating disorder is learning to eat in a healthy way, but her mom suggesting that she (1) needs to lose weight and that (2) Kayla could teach her something because she knows how to avoid food leaves me speechless. This doesn’t support Kayla at all, but merely asks Kayla to focus on losing weight and eating less.

I wish her mom would be more of an all-around support system for her, because her friends are leaving for college soon and she isn’t with Mike anymore. That is, if she can figure out how to properly support her daughter.

For more information on eating disorders, including treatment and support groups, visit the National Association for Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Eating Disorders or the National Eating Disorders Association.

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Week 2: MTV still isn’t re-airing ‘No Easy Decision’ abortion special

January 7, 2011

In case you didn’t see my post from last week, MTV aired a special called “No Easy Decision” that documented 16 and Pregnant teen mom Markai through her decision to have an abortion, also interviewing two other young women at the end of the special who also had abortions. It was 30 minutes long, aired at 11:30 p.m., and aired once — its premiere — and not again during the next week. UPDATE: It’s not airing again this week, either.

I cannot reiterate enough how annoying this is, and how it’s obviously symbolic of how MTV (and many other people) feels about discussing abortion. Let’s just sweep it under the rug, because if we start talking about it too much then things will get heated. MTV was preeminently sweeping it under the rug, as it wasn’t even promoting the special before it aired (the link unfortunately underplays the lack of publicity and airtime).

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad the special exists at all — but I can’t wrap my head around why MTV went to the trouble of making such a groundbreaking special if it isn’t going to promote it, air it more than once, give it a prime time slot, or offer more than 30 minutes for the entire story to be told. Did it instinctively know that the opportunity to document someone’s decision to have an abortion was too important and relevant to pass up, but get cold feet when it had to face the possible wrath from advertisers and anti-abortion activists?

It simply continues to boggle my mind. There’s even a comment on the MTV community feedback website asking MTV to “please remove this show from your programming” (posted 15 hours ago, as of this blog post) — oddly enough, this viewer’s wish was granted long before the special premiered, as it wasn’t scheduled to be in MTV’s programming for very long at all.

This commenter likely didn’t even watch the special, as she complains that it glamorizes abortion — yeah, it looked like Markai was having a really great time deciding whether to have an abortion. It’s called “No Easy Decision” for a reason: it doesn’t glamorize abortion, but rather details how difficult of a decision it is. Maybe if anti-abortion activists actually watched the special, they’d learn something. Too bad they have to seek it out online to actually see it.

To watch the special online, go here. If you want to let MTV know how you feel about the lack of reruns, try Twitter: @MTV, with the hashtag #noeasydecision.

MTV makes it tough for abortion special to reach viewers

December 30, 2010

If you haven’t seen the MTV half-hour documentary “No Easy Decision,” which follows 16 and Pregnant teen mom Markai through her decision to get an abortion, you’ll have to watch it online here — that’s because not only did MTV post the special at an 11:30 p.m. time slot on a Tuesday — well past the usual 16 and Pregnant 10 p.m. slot — but MTV won’t be airing the special again for at least another week, according to its own online TV schedule.

Initially I was going to write solely about the content of the special (read the live blog commentary here from Jessica Valenti, Shelby Knox, Jamia Wilson, Lynn Harris, and Steph Harold), but the lack of airtime caught my attention, and I think it sends a message about the extent of MTV’s progressiveness. This special is good. It’s important. It’s honest. It’s thought-provoking. And unfortunately, it’s only a half-hour long and runs not even one time again within the week of its premiere — because God knows we need to see a three-day marathon of Jersey Shore instead.

This documentary is not getting the airtime it deserves, and even though its being in existence is remarkable and a great step forward in furthering the abortion discussion, it can’t be ignored that MTV didn’t treat it equally in comparison with 16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom, which have never shown a teen mom getting an abortion and only have shown two of the three options when it comes to pregnancy — raising the baby or putting it up for adoption.

I think the lateness of its airing, the fact that it aired once on a channel where every new episode of any show is repeatedly played over and over again (16 and Pregnant and Teen Mom always aired again right after ending at 11 p.m. and always again the next day, usually around 8 or 9 p.m.), and the shortness of the episode itself only added to a stereotype that the special was trying to combat — that women who get abortions must think it’s just an in-and-out procedure and don’t even really think about all their options.

Obviously, getting an abortion is a time-sensitive decision, as 37 states have a restriction on abortions after a certain point in the pregnancy. But the special itself was only 20 minutes long, with about 10 minutes reserved for Dr. Drew interviewing Markai and her boyfriend, and then Dr. Drew interviewing Katie and Natalia, two women who also had abortions and who shared their experiences.

“There are just no easy decisions,” Dr. Drew concluded at the end of the special, which is a very true statement, but one that wasn’t conveyed as well as it could have been with a special that was an hour long and didn’t rush through the thought process, steps, and emotions that Markai (or Katie or Natalia) experienced in deciding to get an abortion.

I wish that the discussion that Dr. Drew was having with the three women after the special could have lasted longer, as those women had so many important things to say in respect to the discussion on abortion, and so many things that only a woman who has gotten an abortion can truly express.

“People assume that if you are having an abortion you are denying the fact that you’re a parent, but it’s not, it’s not at all,” Katie said. “Nobody wants to have an abortion,” Markai said. “In retrospect I’m not ashamed at all, I’m proud of what I did,” Natalia said. These are the statements that get drowned out — these are the honest, real accounts and thoughts that enrich a discourse on abortion, and that change the stereotypes people have about the “kind of person” who gets an abortion, or what goes through someone’s head when she decides to have an abortion.

So despite MTV choosing to air reruns of Jersey Shore for three days straight instead of showing even one more time this special, the half-hour documentary still crams in a lot of important dialogue and information. Markai weighed all her options, called a clinic to get information on all the types of abortions and how they would affect her physically and emotionally (the live bloggers pointed out how (1) the counselor was extremely helpful and nice and (2) the clinic was legit), and looked to her boyfriend James and her mom for support and advice.

I also found it important that Markai’s story be highlighted for two reasons. One, someone obviously was not providing her with complete information about birth control, a sentiment repeated by Katie in the after-interview. Markai had no idea that the birth control immediately left her system if she was not up-to-date on her shots. Katie also said she wasn’t aware the side effects from her birth control — she would get physically ill and throw up the pill — would make it ineffective.

“I should’ve looked my birth control up on the Internet or something, you know, it’s my job to keep up with it,” Markai said. I completely disagree — you shouldn’t have to search the Internet for information on your birth control. You should ask your doctor, and your doctor should be providing information about side effects without you having to ask, just like any other medication.

Two, Markai got an abortion for the sake of her daughter. “If I didn’t have Za’karia I couldn’t do it, but I gotta think about my baby,” Markai said. I think this is especially necessary to highlight because Markai described her abortion as something she was sacrificing for her daughter — so that her and James could provide for their daughter without having to put her through the poverty, hunger, and sometimes neglect that both Markai and James experienced growing up. Anti-abortion activists want to call abortion selfish, though Markai proves it is quite the opposite, while also proving how complicated of a decision it is.

This topic gets me heated because these are important pieces of information that aren’t prevalent in the mainstream media. You don’t see resources for information on abortion (like here, here, or here); you don’t hear women who have had abortions as prominent voices in the discussion; and you don’t get a glimpse into the life of someone deciding to get an abortion as the decision is being made. Statistics and facts and figures aside, women struggle with the choice. There a multitude of reasons for making such a choice. And it’s important to listen to these stories and see that it’s not as easy as black and white, yes or no, right or wrong.

And because abortion is so complex, so sensitive a subject, so full of emotion, I think MTV did a real disservice to Markai, as well as Katie and Natalia, and the subject of abortion itself, because though it is one of the three main choices a pregnant woman can make, MTV seemingly makes its own judgment call on abortion by limiting how long the special is, when it is aired, and how little it is aired.

Again, it’s great the special aired, but people actually have to watch it in order to gain something from it, and that would mean MTV would actually have to air it more than once. Luckily it’s online, so again, go watch it.

Survey sheds light on attitudes toward teen pregnancy

December 29, 2010

A recent study by the National Center for Health Statistics found that the teen birth rate declined by 6 percent, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy also recently released a survey (not to be confused with the NCHS study) regarding attitudes toward teen pregnancy. Instead of discussing the study, I’d like to address the teen responses to the survey.

The survey found that 82 percent of teens “think [16 and Pregnant] helps teens better understand the challenges of teen pregnancy and parenthood and how to avoid it,” which isn’t a surprise. It’s like the slides of sexually transmitted infections they show you in health class — that lesson about herpes has much more of an impact when you see it rather than just hearing about it.

I agree that 16 and Pregnant can definitely have a positive effect on teens, but some of the other survey results show that there’s still a long way to go when it comes to education about sex and pregnancy. Of those surveyed, 78 percent said they had all the information they needed to know to avoid an unplanned pregnancy — though 49 percent knew little or nothing about condoms and 34 percent agreed that birth control didn’t matter — pregnancy would just happen if “it is your time to get pregnant.”

These results indicate a serious lack of comprehensive sex education — if someone thinks that they know the only way to prevent pregnancy, and thinks the only way is abstinence, then yeah, they aren’t going to search for condoms or consider birth control. This is the danger of abstinence-only sex education — abstinence is undoubtedly the best way to prevent pregnancy, but it isn’t the only way. Teens need to know that it’s not divine will or fate that gets people pregnant — unprotected sex is what leads to pregnancy, and teens have the choice to use protection to prevent pregnancy.

Interestingly enough, 80 percent said it would be easier to delay having sex if they had a more open, honest relationship with their parents — with about two-thirds of both teens and adults agreeing that teens don’t use contraception primarily out of fear of parents finding out about it. And about the same number of parents said they’d be happy to find out their kids were using protection if they were having sex.

I find this statistic particularly interesting because this season on 16 and Pregnant, so many more of the teens had an open relationship with their parents regarding sex. The moms were constantly questioning their teenage kids, asking them why they had unprotected sex when they’d been taught about condoms and safe sex. One mom even put condoms under the bathroom sink for her daughter to use if necessary. I agree that open communication is definitely a good thing, but I don’t think it’s extremely far ahead of other reasons teens might not use protection, such as lack of sex education or pressure from a significant other.

The survey also addressed sexting, with 71 percent of teens and 81 percent of adults agreeing that “sharing nude or semi-nude images of themselves or other teens electronically (through cell phones, websites, and/or social media networks) leads to more sex in real life.” That is extremely concerning, considering how the “typical” age for people to get cell phones is getting younger and younger, and the expectation of sex adds pressure and danger to people who send pictures of themselves perhaps not with sex in mind (both teens and adults).

The survey results are very interesting, but they don’t lead to a definitive answer on what could be responsible for the drop in teen pregnancy. For adults the drop could definitely be related to the economy, but teens aren’t worrying about the economy when they are having sex. Both abstinence and comprehensive sex ed groups could try to claim victory. Regardless of MTV’s influence, the survey highlights that teens are still very under-educated about sex, and nearly three-quarters of adults said they’d want their kids to learn both about abstinence and contraception.

16&P: Abortion, uneven sacrifices, distance, disappointment

November 10, 2010

This week on 16 and Pregnant we met Emily, a 16 year old who was kicked out of her mom’s house when she wouldn’t agree to get an abortion. Emily was living with her dad and stepmom and also dating Daniel, an easygoing guy — well, easygoing as long as he was getting his way and not having to take care of baby Liam.

1. What the teen wants vs. what the parents want

It’s not uncommon for the teen moms of 16 and Pregnant to disagree with their parents concerning their teen pregnancy — Farrah wanted an abortion and her mom was against it; Lori wanted to keep the baby and her parents wanted her to put it up for adoption; but this episode, both of Emily’s parents wanted her to get an abortion and Emily was against it. In fact, her mom was so against the pregnancy that she kicked Emily out when Emily refused to get an abortion. Emily’s parents are divorced, so — despite his objection to her keeping the baby — her dad agreed to let her stay with him.

Emily’s dad asked her if she thought that she was qualified to make such a decision, and she simply replied that there was “no turning back now.” But who is more qualified to make the right decision — the teen or the parents? The parents obviously are more aware of the stresses and sacrifices involved in parenthood, and perhaps Emily’s mom saw Emily’s refusing to get an abortion not only as a statement of Emily’s personal beliefs, but as a direct act of defiance against her. Although I don’t have a problem with people getting abortions, there is a problem with forcing someone to get an abortion, or using threats or coercion to get that person to agree to an abortion.

2. An unbalanced sacrifice

Emily put it best when she said, “I hate the fact that I’ve given up way more than [Daniel] has.” Not only did she lose her relationship with her mom because of her pregnancy, but she was on the verge of failing her classes because she was missing school because of morning sickness. Eventually she left her high school and enrolled in home schooling, but keeping up with her homework and graduating high school proved difficult once Liam was born.

Because Emily’s mom kicked her out, she moved in with her dad, who lived about an hour from Daniel. Daniel would come and visit, but he didn’t have nearly the responsibility of taking care of Liam that Emily did, and Emily told her friends that Daniel hadn’t spent more than two hours alone with Liam because Daniel got bored and tired of taking care of him. It also didn’t help that Daniel also told Emily that taking care of Liam wasn’t that hard, hence why she shouldn’t complain about having to do it all the time.

“What you do isn’t 24/7, you have a break,” Emily told Daniel, when she was telling him that though school and work is hard, they eventually end — taking care of Liam was round-the-clock, and she didn’t have his support to make it easier on her. She sacrificed her homework and graduating on time in order to take care of Liam — Daniel worked, but he admitted that he didn’t visit Emily as much because he was trying to enjoy his “freedom” before they moved in together.

It takes two people to make a baby, yet Emily doesn’t get an opportunity to “enjoy her freedom.” Because she has a uterus, the responsibility falls on her to take care of the baby and sacrifice her education, though Daniel played an equal part in making the baby and thinks he has a right to take advantage of his free time and tell Emily that what she does isn’t that hard … despite the fact he avoids doing it.

And Emily’s dad made a good point that, when discussing their plans with Daniel’s parents, it seemed like the plans revolved around Daniel furthering his education and Emily simply taking care of the baby. Her dad said he didn’t want to see her at the Piggly-Wiggly as a cashier because she had sacrificed everything so that Daniel could go to college and graduate. Eventually, Emily confronted Daniel about she was prioritizing her own education and future — Daniel wasn’t pleased about that.

In many of these episodes, the teen moms take on far more responsibility than the teen dads — if the teen dads even stay involved — and they sacrifice so much more than the dads do. It pains me every time one of the teen dads brushes off the teen mom when she explains how exhausting it is to care of the baby, though the dad is never jumping to prove his point that taking care of the baby isn’t hard. Both parents need to take responsibility and shouldn’t be expected that the mom will make all the sacrifices.

3. Absence … doesn’t make the heart grow fonder

Emily seemed to insinuate throughout the episode that things would be easier if they lived together — they were getting on each other’s nerves, but living together and being married would change all that. The problem there is that the fights they have are not solely related to distance — Daniel doesn’t have the attention span to take care of Liam, Emily needs support in order to graduate, and Daniel thinks they should be married solely because they have a child. It’s not the distance that is preventing Daniel from being more involved — it’s his own attitude.

Emily might be falling into the trap of, “It will be better when …” and might make some decisions she later regrets if she banks on living together or marriage fixing their problems. Of course having Daniel there to help her is going to be better, but only if he takes the initiative to help her. By the end of the episode she was realizing that it was probably too soon to be married, but the idea that huge steps like cohabitation, marriage, or even having a baby will fix a problematic relationship is common but misguided — and it avoids actually addressing the problems at hand.

4. Where did I go wrong?

I don’t recall an episode yet where a parent candidly asked, “Where did I go wrong?” and expressed disappointment not only in the teen for getting pregnant, but in themselves for not communicating an abstinence or safe sex message better. I’ve heard some parents say it in a more accusatory way, e.g. reminding the teen that s/he was told about the consequences of unprotected sex — but Emily’s dad genuinely looked distraught about his own message of abstinence being ineffective.

I’m curious, though, what his message was — from what he said, I inferred that his message to her was simply, “Don’t have sex.” That’s not a very effective way to prevent pregnancy — it’s basically a command, which like any other parental command, teens are apt to shrug off. It offers no explanation of why the teen shouldn’t have sex, and no explanation of contraception should the teen go against the parent’s wishes and choose to have sex. It’s quite a gamble to just assume that a command alone, without explanation, will prevent your teen from having sex.

This also brings up how children are taught about sex when they grow up with divorced parents. I’m curious if the dad expected the mom to more closely discuss sex with their daughter, and I’m curious what exactly the mom did tell Emily about sex. If there isn’t communication between the parents about what message is being sent about sex, the teen might get mixed messages — or no messages at all.

16&P: Sibling pregnancy patterns, modesty, passivity

November 3, 2010

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.

16&P: ‘It won’t happen to me’ makes for poor birth control

November 1, 2010

Season three of 16 & Pregnant started with a wedding between 16-year-old Brooke and Cody, who had been dating two years and decided to get married when Brooke was three months pregnant. Brooke gave birth to baby Brody, and Brooke and Cody worked opposite schedules to ensure they both got their high school diplomas but also still could afford the baby’s necessities.

As it is now season three, the themes I have discussed before repeat themselves, and it’s not entirely necessary for me to revisit and repeat that getting married just because you’re having a baby is a poor decision, or that teen pregnancy risk is higher if you were the child of teenage parents, or countless other themes that were found in this episode. There was, however, one theme I’d like to expound on, and it involves condoms under the bathroom sink.

Brooke was not like the typical teen moms on 16 & Pregnant who simply weren’t educated about contraception or were too afraid to ask their parents about it or afraid their parents would find it — Brooke’s mom was a teen mom herself, and she was totally open about contraception and educating Brooke about using it properly.

Brooke’s mom showed Brooke how to put a condom on (using a cucumber), and she kept condoms under the bathroom sink. But Brooke’s mom’s own teenage pregnancy struggles and stories, education, and openness about offering contraception didn’t stop Brooke from getting pregnant. Abstinence-only education proponents will argue that her mom’s open attitude encouraged Brooke to have sex, but I disagree.

A few months back, I wrote about a study that showed that when provided advanced supplies of the morning-after pill, women did not use it significantly more than women who did not have a ready supply of the pill. This contradicted the main thought that women often didn’t use the morning-after pill because actually going to the pharmacy to get the pill stood in the way (whether because it was inconvenient or they were afraid of being judged).

The main theory that explains both these scenarios — which Dr. Drew actually mentioned in his Teen Mom finale special last week — is that most people think, “It won’t happen to me.” The “heat of the moment” excuse works for not using condoms, but that’s no excuse for not taking a pill after the fact. I think an underlying and common reason that people have unprotected sex is that they don’t think pregnancy is a possible consequence for them.

This is especially true if people have had unprotected sex before without it resulting in a pregnancy. The last season of 16 & Pregnant began with Janelle, who used that very excuse — her and her boyfriend had sex a number of times without a condom while she wasn’t using birth control and she hadn’t gotten pregnant before — so she figured it would be fine to do again. The more people have unprotected sex without getting pregnant, the more immune they think they are from it.

I’m not sure of a great way to combat this mentality — lots of people have the “invincible” mentality and partake in risky behavior habitually because they never see any consequences. For example, take wearing a seat belt — it’s a preventative safety measure, so that if you have a car accident, you reduce your risk of injury. The seat belt only does its job, however, if it is actually used, and some people — especially if they haven’t gotten in a car accident ever or in a long time — neglect to use the seat belt because they don’t think they’ll get in a car accident.

People often use the logic of, “I did this once before without consequence, so it’s fine if I do it again,” but logically that doesn’t hold water because the circumstances will be entirely different each time you do whatever event. Sure those sperm didn’t fertilize that egg the first time around — does that mean they never will just because they failed initially? Of course not — that’s why safety measures are precautions — actions taken before something undesired happens, just in case something undesired happens.

I’m going to ponder how to break through the wall of invincibility — suggestions are welcome.