Preventing teenage pregnancy
Yesterday’s front page included a report on teen births increasingly involving older men, with 59 percent of registered adolescent births fathered by a man older than 20 years old, according to Dr. Leila Joudane, United Nations Population Fund country representative. Furthermore, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported 6-7 percent of teen births involved fathers who were 10 years older than the mothers. If that was not alarming enough, they also found that live births from girls aged 10 to 14 increased by 11 percent. Sen. Sonny Angara, chair of the Senate youth committee, pointed out that majority of adolescent live births involved men who were three to five years older than the girls. The emerging picture from all these statistics shows us a critical error in public health campaigns to prevent teen pregnancy: Our target shouldn’t be just teens.
Traditional awareness campaigns have mostly assumed that we are dealing with teenagers having sex with teenagers; that it is simply a matter of educating them about their sexual impulses and how to either promote abstinence or how to engage in sex safely. What we failed to address is the significant imbalance of power that teen girls experience during their first sexual encounter. We are also not acknowledging that we can only equip teen girls so much, and it will still not be enough to counter the persuasive manipulations of an older man. If there will be a psychoeducational campaign, it should be for men.
To prevent teenage pregnancy is the same fight as countering our patriarchal culture. We need parents—especially fathers—who should be just as strict, if not more, toward their sons, rather than just toward their daughters. It is much easier to accept the responsibility of protecting our girls from becoming victims than it is to acknowledge that we have to be proactive in protecting our boys from becoming perpetrators. It is not just about strictness or limiting our children’s freedom; we need to teach boys that girls are not objects to be either won or owned. The very concept of sex shouldn’t be seen in the light of a conquistador, where competitiveness and conquest become the goal, which fails to acknowledge that love making should be a mutual and affectionate act. How many of our boys feel the pressure of losing their virginity? How many of them get preoccupied with racking up “the numbers” just to prove their manhood? The fact that our culture has socially condoned men with concurrent multiple families (with one friend’s dad boasting that having multiple families makes him a man) belie that sexual conquest (and fathering many children as proof of such conquest) has become the hallmarks of traditional Filipino masculinity.
We also shouldn’t limit teenage pregnancy campaigns toward teenage boys. As statistics have shown, we are not just dealing with the fact that teenage girls are getting pregnant. They are also victims of statutory or outright rape. To deal with teenage pregnancy is to deal with rape. We shouldn’t be calling it teen pregnancy education, but rape education. In my experience working with victims of rape and sexual abuse, they themselves do not always understand that they were raped or assaulted. Their parents are also likely to dismiss or minimize what happened. Communities tend to stigmatize any young person who has engaged in sex, regardless of issues of consent. Any legitimate teenage pregnancy campaign should target the whole community in educating them on rape and sexual abuse.
Rape comes in many forms. Not every incident is done at gun or knife point. More likely than not, girls are raped by someone they know. Most rape come with a lot of coercion. Adult perpetrators tend to “woo” their potential victims, offering themselves as boyfriends to girls who have idealized fantasies of romance. If adults have a hard time differentiating love and sex, what more for adolescents? It is only too easy to offer sex as a form of love. This also forms the basis of the eventual gaslighting, with victims getting confused on whether they had truly wanted to engage in a sexual relationship or not. A lot of victims share strong feelings of shame, embarrassment, and guilt because the very nature of the crime is meant to cause confusion and doubt. Families are not likely to believe because it is too intolerable to acknowledge that a heinous crime has happened to their child (and perpetrated by another loved one). We can help families sit with that terrible discomfort so that they can rise up and protect their children.
Finally, the ones that require the most education and intervention are adult men. We need to have harsher consequences when they seek sexual relations with an underaged girl. Movies and TV shows should stop feeding into fantasies toward the “just turned 18.” The age gap stories are too skewed toward older males and younger girls. We need better representation of equitable romantic relationships that are not defined by power imbalances or possession.
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