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Teen Sex and Contraception on Television: Where’s the Personal Responsibility?

8:29 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In the last few weeks, I learned that Bristol Palin was on the pill and all of the stars of 16 and Pregnant used condoms.  I find this slightly curious because, as we know, all of them ended up parents before they were old enough to vote. If I didn’t know any better, I would start to wonder if contraception just doesn’t work.  But since I do know better, I am instead left wondering if the media is letting our most famous teen parents get one over on us and in the process perpetuating myths and misunderstandings about birth control.

Birth Control Pills Work

In her book Bristol Plain explains how the first time she had sex took place while drunk on a camping trip and she feels that Levi “stole” her virginity, though she was not raped.  (I have already admitted that I’m obsessed with Bristol and discussed this odd explanation of hers in an earlier piece.) Despite this, she went on to have a sexual relationship with him for the next two years and became pregnant with their son, Tripp.  In her book Palin explains that at the time she got pregnant, she was on birth control pills that “had been prescribed to her for cramps.”

That reminded me of a sex ed lecture that I had during my senior year in high school (yes, senior year, because when it came to sex, East Brunswick High School didn’t like to tell us about anything until after they were sure we had already tried it). The health teacher held up a packet of pills and said “Some of your friends may be on these, but that’s just for cramp control.” We all stifled our laughter and fought the urge to say in our best sarcastic teen voice “yeah, right.” Some of our friends were on it, hell, some of us were on it, and it wasn’t just for cramp control.

Sure some women use the pill for the benefits it provides other than birth control—it regulates one’s period, can reduce cramps and other premenstrual issues, and some brands can actually help control acne. The good news is that even if the motivation to start or keep taking the pill is something other than contraception, if taken correctly, that very same pill will prevent pregnancy.  When pressed by Barbara Walters in a recent appearance on The View, Bristol said: “I was on birth control when I got pregnant yeah, but it obviously was not used effectively.” 

It’s in the passive voice but I guess it’s as close as we will get to some personal responsibility.

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Maria Talks and Suddenly Lawmakers are Listening: The Controversy Over A Website Providing Sex Information for Teens

7:47 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Maria Talks, a website with frank sexual health information for young people, has become quite controversial in its home state of Massachusetts since a Boston Herald article in April questioned whether its contents were appropriate. After the article, a number of state legislators announced they were outraged by the site.  Some noted that the information about sex was too graphic—Representative Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleborough) went so far as to say “the language used on the site is disgusting. There are words that I would find difficult to speak…”  Others, possibly spurred on by complaints from Massachusetts Citizens for Life, took issue with the website’s description of abortion and, in particular, its explanation of the process by which young women in the state can obtain an abortion without their parents’ permission if necessary.  

The website, which is maintained by the non-profit AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, receives an annual grant of $100,000 from the state Department of Public Health.  Some critics have been putting pressure on the Department to change the content of the site while others, including the state’s four Catholic Bishops, have been focusing on getting Governor Deval Patrick to cut funding for it all together.

Today I spoke to Sophie Godley, a clinical assistant professor in the Community Health Sciences Department at Boston University’s School of Public Health, to get her take on the controversy.  Sophie formerly served as the Deputy Director of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and was responsible for creating and launching Maria Talks in 2007. 

RHRC: What was the impetus for creating the site?

Godley: It actually started as a way to provide information about emergency contraception (EC).  We knew from some of the data collected at the state level that there was a real lack of knowledge about the existence of EC.  So, we went out and did focus groups in key high risk communities (communities with high STIs, low high school graduation, and high teen birth rates).  When we talked to these young people, we found out very quickly that if we hung out a shingle that said “learn about emergency contraception” they would not access the site.  They reported that they didn’t like the term emergency contraception (they found it alarming).  

More importantly, however, they had much more fundamental questions: How do I say no to someone who is pressuring me?  How do I know if I’m ready to have sex?  Who can I talk to about these issues?  We also heard again and again that what these young people sought most of all was a trusted person they could talk to—someone like an older sister.  Hence, Maria was born.

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