The problem is that almost everything worth talking about – certainly anything related to sex and sexuality – is probably nuanced. Scare tactics are black and white. So too much of the conversation is left out, and the wrong impression can be easily taken away.
The most recent version of this conversation is about a viral video created by Leicester Teenage Pregnancy and Parenthood Partnership. YouTube keeps taking the video down and it keeps getting put back up again, so here’s one version of it that’s currently available. If it goes down again, you can go to the hey-babe website, click on the iPhone icon on the bottom of the screen, and watch the Hey Babe – Be Aware, Be Educated video. And if you’re reading this via e-mail, come on over to my website and actually watch the video!
Now, a couple of things about this video.
First, the birth scene is totally stupid. Anyone who has ever seen or participated in a birth knows that it takes a long time – it’s not something that suddenly happens on a field with a crowd of screaming people around, because most the screaming people would eventually get bored and wonder off and the rest would chill out.
Second, if the birth process is so horrible that young people are scared into using condoms, their beliefs about birth will be so mutated that if they ever decide they do want to give birth, they might be scared away from doing in naturally (i.e., in the way that is most healthful for both mother and baby).
Third, I’ve shown a lot of young people real birth videos. Generally they’re pretty amazed by these real births that show loving, gentle births. Generally they feel pretty firmly afterward that a birth is not something they want to experience any time soon – even if they acknowledge they might eventually want to.
I think it is highly telling that YouTube took this video down. There are lots of real birth videos up on YouTube that are far more graphic than this one, but far less sensationalistic. Here’s one example of a real, powerful birth video I often show in classes (it’s particularly cool because it shows the placenta being born towards the end):
Far more graphic, far less sensationalistic, and YouTube keeps it up. Now, while I may or may not agree with YouTube on any given topic, I am solidly in their court on this one. Sensationalistic education has got to go.
I remember in drug education in Middle School my class being told that if we took drugs, we would become addicted and die. Apparently the teacher was under the very incorrect assumption that no one in the class had ever done drugs – or did not know anyone who had done drugs – because otherwise I hope he would have chosen his words more carefully. We knew that smoking marijuana a couple of times, for example, did not a drug addict make. The teacher did not bring nuance into his education – so since we knew some of his information to be plain wrong, we collectively ignored everything he had to say.
The same tendency towards absolutes and scare tactics can be true in sexuality education. When young people hear that unprotected sex leads directly to pregnancy and STDs, they proceed to ignoring everything else the sex educator has to say because that sentence lacks nuance. Rather, unprotected sex CAN always lead to pregnancy and STDs, but it does not always. But every time you have unprotected sex might be the time that it does. And are you willing to take that risk right now?
Birth can be an amazing and powerful experience. It can also be a degrading and powerless experience. Suggesting that for teen mothers birth is the second is short-sited and disrespectful. I am disappointed that a group of my colleages thought this approach was a good idea.