Pregnancy problem may require culture shift

May 06, 2006|By Dee Mayberry

A reader recently told The Herald-Mail that control of the high Washington County teen pregnancy rate could require a total culture change. She might be right.

There was a time when choice about women's bodies - and how they were treated - was dictated by social standards. In society, there were so-called good girls and bad girls. Inaccurate descriptions, of course, but prevalent.

Some "party girls" grew up to join the layers of professional prostitution. At the top of the pyramid was the pampered, protected rich man's mistress. Down the chain was the call girl. She was well paid and carried a list of regular customers. At the bottom of the heap was the street walker who picked up anybody and charged less for her time.

Thus, the "oldest profession" was just that - a profession. These girls saw little sense in giving themselves away when money could be made.


Another group saw sex as a gift to be attached to love. It had to involve courtship and commitment. Over-eager college and high school boys were discarded, even laughed about when girls got together.

These young women, rich or poor, learned from mothers and grandmothers that they were special. Their bodies and their preferences were to be respected.

Some misunderstood a boy's urgent advances and felt betrayed when his interest cooled. This was neither the hoped-for love, nor the road to popularity. They saw the mistake and disliked themselves for it.

If a pregnancy resulted, most were angry and frightened as well. The swelling belly and later stretch marks brought shame. Dirty diapers and late-night baby feedings spelled the end of freedom.

The fun of being a kid for a few more years disappeared. At such a point another thought set in: The boy in her life had some intensely romantic experiences for a brief time in their relationship; she got nine months worth of physical changes and years of responsibility.

It was a bad deal and she knew it.

The culture changed in the '60s and '70s when women, young or old were hammered about "rights." After all, should not they be comfortable acting just as guys did? Wasn't it better to be just like a man in social, professional and sexual ways?

Most women agreed with the first two. Most wanted to be accepted wherever men could go. Most still want (and deserve) equal pay for equal work, equal educational opportunities. However, too many bought the whole. package, taking little heed to the personal aspect of sex without thought and discrimination.

The Herald-Mail, along with experts, points out that pregnancy prevention is well understood by teenagers today. Adults scratch their heads and wonder why young people don't act on that knowledge. They wonder why girls don't recognize that pregnancy is a time to be sheltered, protected, loved.

The answer that comes to mind from one who has housed many lonely, frightened, too-young mothers involves furious commentary about the grown women who smiled and coaxed the young to surrender their dignity. Using the masquerade of choice, independence, women's rights, they created a culture that destroyed feminine choice.

These activists stole the right to say no without negative popularity consequences. They stole the right of girls to be shy, to like themselves in the morning. In the quest for equality in behavior, they even stole the right to be female. Act like a man, drink like a man and swear like a man was a large part of the message that went out.

There was one glitch - men don't carry babies for nine months. So legal and legislative solutions to that problem were found.

As recently as the just-ended session of the Maryland General Assembly, one of the liberated lady senators was pushing over-the-counter drugstore sale of something called the morning-after pill.

More politely it was described as "emergency contraception," but required no visit to a doctor, no free clinic prescription, no emergency room stop for a rape victim even to be checked for HIV. The notion failed in the assembly by only a single vote.

Washington County lawmakers didn't like that bill. They wanted a doctor in the loop, as in the case of birth control pills. One state senator stood up, aware of the risk of drug interactions and danger of underlying health conditions. The senator said, in effect, no one wanted sixth-graders swallowing stuff that might do serious harm. The drug would indeed prevent unplanned pregnancy, but so will other, less risky approaches.

It may be necessary to have a culture change, one that does not induce girls to take medicines - doctor-prescribed or not - and offer casual oral sex to avoid pregnancy. It's time our girls are cherished enough to be taught, to hear and read that it's OK to back off, to be uncool, to be feminine or shy, or just plain stubborn.

Maybe if we concentrate on it, we can give our teenagers real choice once again. It that day comes, Washington County won't have to worry so much about rising unplanned pregnancy rates.

Dee Mayberry is a Boonsboro

resident who writes

for The Herald-Mail.

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