Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month is coming to a close. Rather than talk about the declining rate of teen pregnancy or calling out campaigns that shame teen parents, we wanted to hear directly from young activists working on the issue of teen pregnancy. How are youth working to reduce unintended pregnancy and advocate for birth control access and education?
Young activists from ReDefy inspired us and many YTH Live attendees by showing leadership on teen pregnancy and many other issues that matter to young people. ReDefy is completely youth-run and youth-driven, with the mission of redefining stereotypes to embrace tolerance and empower youth voices. One of their staff, Lara Strassberg, Head Officer of Marketing, is a teen pregnancy prevention activist who has worked on and experienced this issue first-hand. We sat down with Lara and learned more about youth empowerment, the importance of advocacy, and fighting back against birth control shaming.
ERIN: Tell us about your experience advocating for birth control access for young people.
LARA: Most of my experiences advocating for birth control access for young people have been homegrown. Conversations with parents, adults in the community, teachers—there is such an (irrational) fear among many adults about providing their children with correct methods to practice safe sex. I’ve always believed that to make a change, you need to start within your own personal community. Knowledge grows and expands, so you just need to set the initial ball rolling.
ERIN: What do you think that youth need to know about pregnancy prevention that they’re not learning about in sex ed?
LARA: I believe that in sex ed classes I’ve experienced, there has never been a proper birth control unit. Typically, most kids believe the only things available are condoms, and if the female’s parents aren’t ‘strict,’ the pill. This couldn’t be more wrong. The pill, IUDs, patches, shots, female condoms, things such as Nuvaring—the list of options is expansive, and teens need to be aware of that. The difference between hormonal and non-hormonal birth control is also a significant decision that should be known. If I had to say one phrase that I’d want every person considering sex to know, it would be that there is no baseline standard. Everyone’s bodies function differently and that is okay. There is no problem in finding a method of birth control that is not ‘typical’ in mainstream media and sex ed classes—everybody should do what makes them feel protected, safe, and confident.
ERIN: Many young people have only experienced abstinence-only sex education and aren’t properly educated about preventing pregnancy and STI’s. How can youth in this position empower themselves with knowledge?
LARA: Luckily, we were born into the social media age. Every piece of information we could want is at our fingertips. A quick Google search can yield a million results and open up a world of knowledge on how to keep ourselves safe. I believe each individual should be provided support within school and taught the truth about how to have safe sex, but if that isn’t available, the Internet can work wonders. True safety is knowledge, not ignorance.
ERIN: How can young people get involved in teen pregnancy prevention activism? How can they be advocates for other young people?
LARA: One thing that I’ve always believed in is if you have an experience, share it. Talk about it. Write about it. Upon our heavily misogynistic society, the conversation around birth control is a taboo. As women, we are taught to be ashamed of our bodies, and ashamed of our natural desire to experience sex. The way to advocate is to show you don’t conform to these restrictions placed upon yourself. Many don’t have the strength to break out of this chain, afraid of the reactions of others. The only way something becomes normalized is if it becomes public and common. If one person opens up about their experiences, another might be more inclined to do so. We need to work on building a community where sex and birth control is not such a taboo, and that starts by one person sharing their story. A little courage can go a long way.
ERIN: Can you share a little about how you first were connected to or inspired to get involved in this kind of activism?
LARA: Luckily I was born into a very liberal family—I was taught to be proud of who I am, to stand up for what I believe in, and to not be afraid of myself. I would talk about mental, emotional, and physical changes throughout my life with my parents with no judgement or shame. This bred confidence and self worth inside me, which is the fuel I use to stand up against restrictions society has placed upon me. I’ve learned that the courage you use to stand up for what you believe in only grows over time with each different topic you challenge. I went to a pretty small middle school, so I was exposed to a small, similar group of individuals. Upon coming to high school, I was stunned at all the different people who surrounded me—becoming acquainted with people unlike myself and starting to experience my first sexual feelings made me realize I had to fight for what I believed in with more strength than I ever had before. Many of my friends were ashamed about how they felt, and it took effort and persistence to break them out of the mindset that sex was a sin. Seeing my friends terrified and ashamed of themselves for something that was completely normal was what drew me to birth control activism. The thing is, despite what we are taught, we will do what we want to—and we need to make sure we’re safe about it.
ERIN: How can young people use tech and social media to connect around this issue? Do you have any favorite social media campaigns or movements that are focused on teen pregnancy prevention?
LARA: Finding (or creating!) accounts that stand for birth control education and access is a great way to connect, share stories, and discover what birth control could be right for you. I don’t have any specific favorite campaigns, but Planned Parenthood is my all time favorite information and aid provider in birth control.
ERIN: How can adults help to address the barriers many youth are facing in pregnancy prevention resources, access, and knowledge?
LARA: I think adults need to speak to their children with respect, honesty, and maturity. The ‘sex’ talk should also be the birth control talk. Many adults preach abstinence because they believe it’ll keep their children safe, but this isn’t the case. The way to protect your children is to educate them.
ERIN: What are three things you would like everyone to know about teen pregnancy prevention?
LARA: One, there are many methods of birth control. Find one you like, and if that doesn’t work, try again. There is not a ‘one size fits all.’ Second, the ‘pull out method’ doesn’t count as birth control. Really. No matter how fast you can do it. Thirdly, birth control is nothing to be ashamed of, and neither is sex. Be proud in your decision to be yourself, and be proud in your decision to practice safe sex.
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