Baby love

Teenagers discuss sex education, teenage pregnancies, and why
some young people still believe that having a baby might improve
their lives. Sheila Lewis listens in.

Britain still has the highest pregnancy rate in Europe. And
although statistics show we’re making some progress, doubts
remain over whether the government can reach its target, set three
years ago in the NHS Plan, of reducing pregnancies among under-18s
by 15 per cent by 2004.

A group from Project Fresh Start, a London-based education and
employment programme for young people excluded from school, shared
their own mixed feelings about the prospect of having an early

For Lisa, 15, TV soaps were far from discouraging. “I
don’t think that teenage pregnancy is glamorised on TV but
they do make it seem like the right thing to do. When the
EastEnders character Sonia Jackson got pregnant it was almost
expected because her mother had been a teenage mother too. I think
young people look at this programme and think pregnancy looks like
fun. The message I got was ‘have a baby and you can give it

Fourteen-year-old Sabrina believes she could handle that
responsibility: “Having a baby is not glamourous, it’s not
like a fashion accessory that you can put away and buy a new one.
If you have a baby you have to look after it. I don’t believe
in abortion so that’s what I would have to do.”

Anne-Marie, also 14, feels some of her friends think their
lifestyles will improve if they became a teenage mothers. She says:
“Some girls think that they will have a better life if they get
pregnant. They think that they will get loads of money from social
services and a flat. Some of them do get money and a flat and that
makes getting pregnant attractive.”

Kathy, 15, is already a mother. She says she decided to have a
baby because she wanted more love in her life. “I got pregnant so
that I would have someone to love. When I found out that I was
pregnant I was pleased. I had a partner and I wanted to have his
baby,” she says. She adds that the sex education she received at
school stopped at a certain point and failed to address the issues
in an adult manner.

“I go to a Catholic school so the issue of sex is still not
spoken about in an open way. I learned more about sex from my
friends than from teachers. I think schools need to be more open
about sexual education, and stop behaving like young people are not
having sex because they are!” she says.

Fourteen-year-old Alesha agrees, adding that everybody at her
school seems to be “at it”.

“There’s a lot of bragging going on like, ‘oh
I’ve done it with him or her’. Everybody thinks
it’s grown up to have sex. You might be able to hide the fact
that you are having sex from your parents but when you become
pregnant it’s much more difficult to cover that up.”

But what about the boys; isn’t it time some of them took
some responsibly for their actions as well?

“Me and my mates talk about how it would be if we got a girl
pregnant. Some of them said they would run away from the
consequences. I wouldn’t but I don’t know who I would
tell first. I would try and be a man about it and talk with my
girlfriend about it, then maybe my parents and then hers,” says
15-year-old Giovanni.

So what more could be done to persuade young people to use
contraception more regularly and carefully? Giovanni says: “I think
the government should charge for abortions. I think that would
bring down the teenage pregnancy rates.”

Alesha adds: “It depends on how you got pregnant. If I was raped
then I would like the right to a free abortion. But if I had sex
and got pregnant then I would have to face up to my actions and
have the baby.”

Giovanni believes boys should share responsibility for
contraception – up to a point. He wouldn’t be willing to use
oral contraception himself.

“No way! I wouldn’t take anything because I’d feel
like I was killing a part of me. If I had to have the contraception
injection or take the pill I’d feel like I wasn’t part
of the crowd anymore. I think its easier for a girl to go to a
clinic for contraception than it is for a boy. If I had to go to a
clinic to get contraception I would feel like my maleness was taken
away from me. I think using a condom is enough.”

Most of the young people felt that they don’t have enough
information on how to prevent pregnancy and what sort of
contraception is available. Many of them think it would be a good
idea to have a place to go where they can talk about sex,
contraception and pregnancy.

“It would be good to be able to talk to a man about
contraception. That would be easier,” says Giovanni. But Kathy
believes sex education from other young people would be more

“If a 15-year-old girl stood up in front of my class and said
‘yeah, I have a baby and I’m finding it really hard to
cope. I really am struggling with my life now’, she’d
get a much better response from me than a teacher standing up there
trying to talk to us and going red with shame.”

Names have been changed to protect identity

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