Newsweek covered the teen pregnancy boom Hollywood style.
From Jamie Lynn Spears’s pregnancy to the blockbuster Juno to the reality show Baby Borrowers, teen pregnancy has become en vogue yet nowhere is Hollywood mentioning the “three C’s,” according to one media analyst. “There’s little commitment, no mention of contraception and rarely do we see negative consequences,” says Jane Brown, a journalism professor at the University of North Carolina who runs the Teen Media Project. “What’s missing in the media’s sexual script is what happens before and after. Why are these kids getting pregnant and what happens afterward?”
Normally, I would roll my eyes and dismiss these stories as nothing more than sensationalism. After all, who the heck wants a baby as a teenager? But as I have covered here before, teen pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted diseases are up. Part of the trend is due to a slow economy and teen girls feeling like they have no other career options to parenthood.
But as the Newsweek article pointed out, Hollywood seems to treat condom use as some dirty secret. It’s just not mentioned in the context of teen pregnancy.
To recap, the reality that’s not covered: teens are having sex (the average age of first intercourse is 16.9 for boys and 17.4 for girls, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute) and some are getting pregnant (almost 750,000 each year, also from Guttmacher). One third of those women will have an abortion; two thirds will carry their baby to term. Teen moms are less likely to finish high school and more likely to remain a single parent, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Teens are also contracting sexually transmitted diseases in alarmingly high numbers–a quarter of teenage females have at least one.
“Juno” and “Secret Life” and other movies and TV shows like them could open doors to all of those issues. And research suggests that is actually what teens want: three quarters say they would like the media to talk more about the consequences of sex, according to a 2007 study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
But these topics can be risky for Hollywood producers and purveyors of celebrity magazines. Producers and writers may want to avoid the political controversy over abstinence education. There’s also the entertainment value at stake–lectures on condoms don’t exactly sell blockbuster films. But there’s also a more basic reason: talking about high-school students having sex, using condoms or contracting STDs still makes many people a little bit squeamish and embarrassed. Although the vast majority of parents say they talk to their kids about delaying sex and contraceptive use, most are still uncomfortable with the subject. Eighty-two percent of parents and two thirds of teens say that they don’t know exactly what to say, how to say it or when to start the conversation, according to the study by the National Campaign.
The article, of course, gave a realistic view of teen motherhood as the young women dealt with ostracism and backlash from their families and communities and could not afford to support the children they had.
What do you think? Do Jamie Lynn and Hollywood have an obligation to discuss the realities of teen motherhood?