Quick hit: sex education

// 14 December 2009

Heather Corinna has a succinct response at CiF to the latest stats on the numbers of young women having repeat abortions.

What can be done to reduce the numbers? Provide better sex education and information about and access to contraception, which is what the UK has sound plans to do. The 2008-09 Opinions Survey Report shows only 57% of UK women aged between 16 and 19 using contraception, a lower rate than all other ages. Only 11% of young people in the Netherlands use no contraception: their rate of sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies is impressively low.

Young women nearly always ask for (or are routinely given by healthcare providers) the pill, but oral contraceptives are less effective for teenaged women than for older women. Awareness of emergency contraception should be increased and information should be provided during an abortion visit, with in-depth contraception consultations (women can often start reversible long-acting methods – an injection, implant or IUD – before they leave the clinic). Abortion providers should also ask about the dynamics of their patient’s relationships. Intimate partner violence (IPV) rates are high and women in abusive, controlling relationships have high rates of unwanted pregnancies.

Comments From You

jennifer Drew // Posted 14 December 2009 at 1:44 pm

Heather Corinna as always, deftly demonstrated her considerable knowledge and understanding of the complexities of how ‘female sexuality’ continues to be policed and controlled by our male-centered society.

Unfortunately as Corinna herself said, in one response to the numerous comments, she was not able to analyse how the construction of dominant masculinity operates which ensures wmen and girls continue to be penalised, stigmatised and blamed, whilst men and boys as usual ‘disappear totally.’

This is what Corinna did say in her piece and I totally agree with her:

‘We need to ensure boys and men understand that they are as responsible for their sexual choices, including prevention of unwanted pregnancy, as women. We don’t do women or men any favours by accepting or enabling double standards to the contrary.’

Sesi // Posted 14 December 2009 at 6:29 pm

Thought you might be pleased to know that there was an article in the Guardian this weekend about this that (appears from first glance- haven’t read it yet) interviwed Pink Stinks.

earwicga // Posted 14 December 2009 at 9:08 pm

Even if women lived in a world where they understood their bodies and sexuality there would still be abortion and teenage pregnancies.

I would rather look at the subject of teenage pregnancies in a different way. Instead of condoning it and spending all our time in trying to avoid it with half hearted sex education, we should as a society fully support teenagers who have babies. God knows, they have more energy than I did when I gave birth in my late twenties. And there is nothing intrinsicly wrong about teenagers raising children – given the right support, including financially. Actually, given the support all parents should have would be adequate.

Obviously it is more dangerous for a girl who doesn’t have a fully grown body to bear and birth a child and I’m not advocating for young teenagers to have babies. But the stigma has to stop. Feminism would be a good place to start this. It would be good if feminism didn’t demean parenthood as an obstacle to career and earning prospects, and if young women weren’t constantly criticised by older feminists because we know better/knew a time of no women’s rights etc. etc.

My brother and his partner have just had their fourth child, and I joked about him going in for the snip while he was at the hospital for the birth. He told me that at every birth including the first, they were offered every type of contraception including sterilisation. I just can’t accept that it is lack of knowledge that leads teenagers back for repeat abortions.

There is obviously much more to it than sex education, whatever the quality of it.

gadgetgal // Posted 15 December 2009 at 11:44 am

Ok, I’m gonna (for the first time ever, I do believe) be honest here about this because it may provide a bit more insight – I’ve had 3 abortions so I fall into the category that has been studied. I’m older now, so not in the recent figures, but not that long ago either so I can understand where they’re coming from. I usually lie and say one or two, but I think maybe I should be a little more open and open up the discussion.

I agree that sex education is not the end-all and be-all about it (mine was fine, not great, but adequate enough) and there are many reasons why young and frequent pregnancies happen. However, the sex ed in this country is particularly bad (and I’m comparing it to the US where I thought THAT was poor) and it doesn’t start early enough. Also I think a two-pronged approach may be necessary – there’s no real point in giving kids more sex education when through the media we’re also telling them they NEED to have sex to be cool, and there’s something wrong with them if they don’t feel sexual when they’re young. I know many people who had sex at ages 10-14 and even they say now that it really didn’t have a whole hell of a lot to do with it feeling good to them, their bodies were still developing, and I recall myself not really physically being able to orgasm the way I did when I was a little older.

I also agree some of the stigma needs to be removed from teenage pregnancies, as it’s unfair on both mother and child, but I don’t agree that sex education shouldn’t be focused on deterring it. I’m most certainly not anti-baby or family (still trying here…) but I’m much more pro-options, and whatever way you choose to go in life I don’t think it’s wise to have your options limited early on, especially at that crucial time of brain development (the teenager, not the baby). However much energy you have when you’re young parenthood WILL sap it, it’s hard work, and not just physically, it takes a lot of mental work too. I would hate to think that something I thought would be a really great idea at 16 I was still paying the price for now that I’m in my 30s.

Also something no one’s considered here either – I met a lot of different women, with a variety of situations that meant they ended up on wards with me (teenage pregnancies, DV, overseas peops who couldn’t get access where they lived, heart conditions, etc. etc.), but the vast majority were around my age and we all (including the guys involved) seemed to have one thing in common – sheer bloody stupidity, and no amount of intervention can cover that! Like earwicga said: “Even if women lived in a world where they understood their bodies and sexuality there would still be abortion and teenage pregnancies.”

Maybe the stigma needs to be removed from abortion – if you have a baby at 16 you get some support (if not the best); but if you tell people you’ve had more than one abortion then you turn into stupid, evil monster! So it doesn’t look like either choice is ever really considered “good” and you’ll be branded for life either way!

Ruth // Posted 15 December 2009 at 12:14 pm

I’m really pleased to see on the TV and hear on the radio all the adverts at the moment for contraception, particularly longer term methods like the injection, IUD/IUS and implant. It’s a particularly good way to get information about these method to younger people, especially as it mentions people forgetting to take their pill (I know I used to do this a lot) and in one of the examples it also brings the man into it, though he thinks it’s a bad idea to begin with, until his girlfriend mentions pregnancy. I knew about the injection when I was in my late teens, but my doctor never suggested any of the other methods that might be suitable, unless I mentioned them first. Now I couldn’t be without my implant. I do wish the ad would mention STI testing though in the commentary, if people are just relying on the chemical methods, not just mention STIs in the on-screen text.

I was lucky with my sex education- I was in the US when I was that age (10-11, last year of primary) and I was taught all about disease and contraception, as well as the biological side of it. That was only because my parents made me take the class as an elective, it wasn’t a compulsary class. I never did get to see the “lady giving birth” video though as I got back to the UK too late in the year.

earwicga // Posted 15 December 2009 at 1:27 pm

@ gadgetgirl

Thanks for your honesty – I think the only comment I would make is thank god you had access to a safe and legal abortion. I don’t think that abortion is something that anybody can or should judge, and I’m unsure why the question posed by the quote in the OP is what can we do to reduce numbers of abortion, instead of asking how can we reduce unplanned pregnancies (I should go over and read the whole article on CIF, but then I would only be tempted into the comments and that way madness lies).

Thanks also for your engagement with what I wrote above, I did expect to be shot down in flames tbh as it is only really a half formed thought on my behalf. I do, however, disagree with this:

“I don’t think it’s wise to have your options limited early on … I would hate to think that something I thought would be a really great idea at 16 I was still paying the price for now that I’m in my 30s.”

To agree I would have to agree that having a child is limiting your life options and that essentially your life would always be something you regretted. There are pros and cons to having a child at any age, but it is not the end of life. It may be the end of life as you know it, but it’s not a worse life after children – just different. I guess there are plenty of studies that prove that young/single/all mothers suffer financially by having children and that would always be wrong and unjust, but from ones I have read they don’t adjust for the financial starting point of parents.

Anyways, sex ed is supposed to be changing with the introduction of the new school curriculum and starting younger. We shall see… More useful measures would be the expansion of family planning clinics. I have always used them and not the docs for contraception. I guess I was lucky my mother always had to take us along with her as she had nobody to leave us children with, or I don’t know how else I would have known about them.

earwicga // Posted 15 December 2009 at 1:37 pm

I just tried googling for more feminist views on teenage parenting, and inbetween all the ‘pro-life’ pages I found this wonderful article and I hope you can all find the time to read it as it articulates much better what I have been trying to say: http://www.hipmama.com/node/42339

Heather Corinna // Posted 15 December 2009 at 2:49 pm

“I don’t think that abortion is something that anybody can or should judge, and I’m unsure why the question posed by the quote in the OP is what can we do to reduce numbers of abortion, instead of asking how can we reduce unplanned pregnancies”

Just FYI, that was the core of my premise: I was asked to address the “repeat” abortion rate in the piece, b/c that’s what everyone was freaking about, and instead said I did not understand the issue w/abortions at all, and felt we should be addressing unwanted pregnancy. :)

earwicga, you might also be interested in this: http://www.scarleteen.com/blog/heather_corinna/2009/05/22/preventing_teen_pregnancy_three_words_most_likely_to_make_my_blood_b

And if you don’t want to deal with CIF comments — SO understandable — there’s a version of the piece at Scarleteen, here: http://www.scarleteen.com/blog/heather_corinna/2009/12/12/uk_repeat_abortion_rate_for_teens_increases_what_does_it_mean_and_wh

Heather Corinna // Posted 15 December 2009 at 3:13 pm

Just a P.S. The word count at CIF is intensely restrictive. The piece I originally hammered out for them was 2,000 words: they need under 800.

One of the things I said in that original piece is that seeing that young women who do NOT want to become parents or remain pregnant have enough access to abortion to have more than one (as many, many women will do: while 1 abortion is the lifetime average for women in the US and UK, it’s BARELY just one) does not upset me: I consider that a serious bright spot. That’s certainly a very different, and exponentially more positive and empowered, picture than we had 30 or 40 years ago when what was more typical were shotgun marriages or hidden adoptions.

gadgetgal // Posted 15 December 2009 at 3:30 pm

@earwicga – thanks for the response and the heads up on the hipmama blog, I just had a read and I’m going to explore the other articles after work (I quite like a lot of the feminist parenting blogs, seems odd, I know!).

I think I will have to stick with what I said, although I didn’t phrase it very well so I can understand you disagreeing – what I said wasn’t about judging people, or saying their lives will be worse (which a lot of young mum’s won’t be), or taking away their right to do want they want when they want to do it, that’s something that should be up to the individual in most cases. But I’m saying having been in that situation, and realising how many girls were like me in that situation, I can honestly say it wouldn’t have been right for me or most of the other girls I met to start having kids and part of the reason for that really IS age. That doesn’t mean to say a 12 year old COULDN’T be a good mum, it just means it’s probably better to advise putting it off in your formative years because they’re so crucial in your own development, especially brain development, which won’t have actually finished at that point. I have a couple of friends going back to uni this year after long gaps in education (they had kids in their mid-teens) and although they don’t regret having their kids they recognise that things are more difficult for them now, even just remembering things gets harder as you get older (I know, I’m there!). I reckon they’ll do well, and I can even say the experience of being a parent will help that in some ways, but it would have been nice for them to have been able to do it when it would have been easier, even they’ve said that to me. Some of that is down to the the poor provision of education to young mothers, but some of it is inevitable – you literally don’t have the time or the energy for it, whatever age you are (I’ve seen my sisters, a combination of younger and older mums, all go through this!)

That’s why I had a problem with the study – it didn’t seem to factor in that an abortion in itself can be a responsible act, they were just using it to show how things had gone wrong! Maybe they hadn’t – maybe we just need sex ed to catch up and doctors to offer better advice on contraceptives. I seem to recall nearly all the girls I met having abortions either used nothing or were on the pill (you feel less of a need to blag when you’re all in the same boat and there’s no one else there to pass judgement, it’s a weird place to be), which when you’re young you tend to be more likely to forget anyway. We genuinely didn’t want kids, not because of some social stigma, and we were just stupid and/or didn’t know any better to prevent it!

I definitely like your idea of expanding family planning clinics, and maybe we should consider making some kind of school group visits so they know where they are and what they do – I remember (many years ago) that one issue I had was the lack of availability of the morning after pill because my town had only one clinic and it was only open Tuesday and Thursday mornings(!!!!!!!!)

As I said, though, none of this should be a reason for treating either decision as a bad one – when you get pregnant there should be unconditional support no matter what, and I hate all the media castigation of teen mums as much as the dreaded silence surrounding abortions. Neither one is bad, they simply “are”, and blaming people isn’t going to make that any less the case!

It’s good to talk to you, by the way – I think although we may not agree on the nuances we pretty much both feel that treating anyone as a second-class citizen is very wrong, and I have to agree with you that mothers (especially young mothers) seem to get it in the neck more than most people. We definitely need a re-think on that, especially with regards to the awful attitude that seems to be going about now where we offer no support (financial or otherwise) but everyone still wants a say in how you raise your child anyway – makes me want to scream!!

Politicalguineapig // Posted 15 December 2009 at 3:57 pm

Earwicga: Parenthood is an obstacle to career and earning prospects in the current economic climate. At least according to employers. Yeah, it’s something that needs to change, but I don’t think that the backlash against motherhood is purely the fault of feminists.

earwicga // Posted 16 December 2009 at 12:14 am

@ Politicalguineapig: I’ve recently realised I don’t know enough about what feminism *actually* has done/said about parenthood to be able to judge that. Watching the ‘A woman’s place’ video posted here: /blog/2009/12/a_womans_place made me think a lot more about original aims and how they have developed and been reported and commented on since.

I think devaluing parents is more to do with the economies of capitalism.

earwicga // Posted 16 December 2009 at 12:23 am

@gadgetgirl: good to talk to you too (unfornuately I lose my internet access tomorrow when my laptop goes to Mastercare for repair, and with their rep I doubt I’ll be back on this year *sob* ).

I doubt that if I hadn’t experienced motherhood as a single parent that I would have thought about supporting teenage parents, but my experience has shown me that there are many many people who believe I shouldn’t have children and that we have no right to welfare. It makes me sooooooo angry. Being a mother has shown me that there are no inate qualities to mothering – I learn as I go. My son asked me how I learnt to be a mum and I had to reply that it was by having children. You are right by saying everybody has a view or wants to advise/tell you what to do – but offer absolutely no support, in fact popular views advocate taking away what support exists.

Perhaps Heather Corrina can explain further why abortion was the focus of her article rather than unplanned pregnancy or the rapid rise in STI’s in teenagers. I read something last night that said 1 in 4 American teens have or have had an STI. Not sure what the UK figure is but it is prob comparable.

btw, perhaps I should have specified an age when talking about teenagers as I definately don’t think that 12 is a good age to be having a child – it is potentially physically very dangerous to bear a child at that age, as we see in countries such as Yemen where marriage at this age is outlawed, but frequently still happens.

The Family Planning clinic’s opening hours in my town also make it inaccessible to school pupils. Great idea for school trips there. I just find they are tremendous resources and totally undervalued – a one stop shop for contraception and you don’t even need an appointment to pick up supplies such as condoms which are too bloody expensive.

Heather Corinna // Posted 16 December 2009 at 3:42 pm

Hey, earwicga: I left two comments here yesterday morning, but alas, they haven’t yet seen the light of day.

In short, unwanted pregnancy rather than abortion WAS the focus of my piece: what I was commissioned to write about though, was that “repeat” abortion rate for young women everyone was wigging about, so I came to addressing unwanted pregnancy via that route, and made clear in the piece I don’t understand the fuss about abortions, but instead think we should always be concerned about unwanted pregnancy, no matter the outcome or a woman’s age.

Jess McCabe // Posted 16 December 2009 at 4:29 pm

Apologies, our comment system thought Heather’s comments were spam for some reason, so I’ve only just seen them and been able to post them!

Politicalguineapig // Posted 16 December 2009 at 5:47 pm

Earwicga: I really don’t know anything about the U.K suffragist movement. I know that in the U.S., Lucy Stone Blackwell, a leading suffragist, was a mother. However, a lot of the first suffragists, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony opposed motherhood and marriage for political reasons. But that was mainly because women who married gave up their legal personhood, and motherhood precluded political activity.

That said, I think we’re going to do a massive derail if we keep talking about this, so back to our regularly scheduled topic.

How much do condoms cost in the U.K? I’ve seen a few sold for as low as 25 cents.

Politicalguineapig // Posted 17 December 2009 at 3:54 pm

It ate mine, too.

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