Being a nurse can be really fun. You get to watch babies being born. You get to dry a seconds-old human off with a stack of soft receiving blankets fresh from the warmer. You check the first set of post-uterine vitals, clear gunk from the airway, count fingers and toes, adorn the kiddo with her first bling (a hospital I.D. band), and place that slightly smushed pink bundle of joy against her 13-year-old mother’s chest for first the first time.
As you try to help the new mother breastfeed her baby, you can’t help but notice that mom seems confused and distracted. “Let’s put the cell phone away for a few minutes so you can hold your baby with both hands,” you gently instruct this lucky young lady. “Hold on, I’m in the middle of a text,” she replies. You wait patiently. Baby yawns. Suddenly a gaggle of middle-school girls barge into the room and flock towards the baby. “Oh, she’s so cute!” they exclaim. “Is it too soon to pierce her ears?” one asks.
Baby’s hungry and starting to fuss. You tell mom that her baby needs to eat. “Can we do it later? My friends are here!” she says.
Now, I’m not relating this anecdote, which I’ve experienced with nearly every young teen mother I’ve taken care of, in order to laugh at the frivolities of teen girls. Nor is this to say that all young moms and dads are too immature to function as parents. Just most of them. Which is why I welcomed Obama’s strategy to prevent teen pregnancy back in May, which put an end to abstinence-only funding and instead focused on evidence-based interventions. Sadly, the fun didn’t last, and I aspirated chunks of my own partially digested freedom fry when I read this a few weeks ago, which says that those rascals over in the Senate Financing Committee voted to reinstate funding for Jesus only abstinence-only education.
For practical purposes, the most important part of the abstinence-only versus comprehensive sex education debate is the evidence demonstrating how woefully ineffective abstinence-only education is (Kohler et al., 2008; Roosa & Christopher, 1990; Underhill, 2008; etc. etc. etc.) and how effective comprehensive sex-education programs can be (Oringanje et al., 2009). Unfortunately, the paucity of well-designed studies from either camp means that there isn’t really strong support for a definitive statement on the matter. Furthermore, pinning the phenomenon of teen pregnancy solely on the shortcomings of sex education is dangerously short-sighted and allows us to conveniently ignore larger cultural, sociopolitical and economic factors that contribute to teen pregnancy. So why am I choking on my own vomit at the thought of funneling $50 million of federal money into abstinence-only education? I don’t know. Maybe it’s because of the subtle and not-so-subtle messages of sexism, racism and classism embedded in most abstinence-only curricula (Froyum, 2009). Maybe it’s because the teen pregnancy rate is rising at the same time that contraceptive use amongst teens is declining (Contraceptive Technology Update, 2008). Maybe it’s because I was socialized to think poorly of early childbearing and think highly of education and financial independence. Maybe it’s because I didn’t learn Jesus and so I believe that teens will do what their healthy, fertile, baby-friendly little bodies tell them to do. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because one of my little 13-year-old mamas told me she hadn’t heard of condoms before she started having sex. Had she been privy to the forbidden secret of wrappin’ it up, she might not have to face the emotional trauma and economic instability that naturally arises when one attempts to text message and breastfeed at the same time.