It Takes Two To Prevent Teen Pregnancy: How To Reach The Guys

Levi JohnstonEarlier this week, I had the privilege of speaking at a National Press Club event organized by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy addressing the 5 percent increase in the teen birth rate. I spoke on a panel that addressed how technology is or could be used as a prevention tool. While nobody knows for sure why the teen birth rate is increasing, the Campaign offered these possible reasons:

More sex, less contraception. I thought teen sexual activity had been declining for years—the Campaign notes that while “not statistically significant, sexual activity increased and contraceptive use by sexually active teens decreased among high school students between 2005 and 2007.” Could lack of contraceptive use be a result of abstinence-only education? Hmmm….And if the increase in teen sex is not statistically significant, what does that mean?

Less concern about HIV/AIDS. Leading to less condom use.

Reaching older teens. Three-quarters of the increase in over-all teen birth rates can be attributed to older teens (18 to 19) vs. younger teens (15 to 17). Most teen pregnancy prevention efforts have largely ignored this group.

Changes in the makeup of the teen population. i.e. changes in the racial/ethnic makeup of the teen population. They don’t include this under this point in their fact sheet—but it relates: More than half (53%) of Latinas get pregnant at least once before the age of 20 (twice the national average). The birth rate has gone up amongst teens of all racial/ethnic groups, but…shifting demographics, access issues and cultural norms may be playing a part as well.

Complacency, fewer resources, and prevention fatigue

and finally, An “anything goes” culture (i.e. pop culture, high profile teen pregnancies, “sexting,” etc.)

What I found most interesting about the day was a question addressed to the media panel moderated by Maury Povich and featuring Ann Shoket (Seventeen), Vickie Collier (ABC Family), Kristen Alderson (teen soap star), and Taylor McCleod (student). An audience member challenged the focus on girls—i.e. media that largely targets girls like teen mags or shows like “Secret Life,” with the emphasis on girls’ self respect and having a plan for the future as the best prevention vs. the lack of focus on how to reach young men.

I left thinking about this from a media and technology perspective—how do you reach boys? I immediately thought of a dating violence prevention program I encountered back in Boston that tapped college and professional athletes to talk to younger guys about that issue—i.e. male role models. They don’t have to just be traditional jocks—what about getting male musicians/artists involved, action sports stars, etc.? Next I thought about gaming—how can we embed messages and responsibly sexual behavior in popular video games in ways that are contextual and relevant? Let’s get PSAs directly aimed at guys running during TV shows popular with teen guys—“Family Guy,” “Heroes,” etc. as well as try to work in contraception into shows and movies where teens are sexually active (and that have adults hooking up outside of committed relationships).

I would love to know the ratio of female vs. male teens who access sites like Planned Parenthood’s Teen Talk or the Campaign’s StayTeen or even use mobile services to access sexual health information (i.e. the recent Times article). My guess (and assumption just from looking at the design and imagery on these sites) is that it skews female.

Since 71 percent of teen births are from older men (and younger teen girls), there have been attempts to call older guys out, highlight the illegality of these relationships, etc. Still, it sounds like we need to really put some resources into focusing on comprehensive media strategy targeting boys and young men and their role in helping to create teen pregnancies. Too bad Bristol and Levi are fighting….

If you know of a great teen pregnancy prevention campaign specifically aimed at teen guys, let us know in comments!

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  1. Amy Strecker

    Great point.  I think stereotypical gender roles also play a part in the lack of prevention directed towards males.  I would venture to guess that in many settings, if two 14-year-olds have a kid, it’s mom who the baby lives with and is awoken all hours of the night (or possibly mom’s mom?)  I think it’s easier for males to get off with taking less responsibility for their kids than females, so many of the campaigns send messages direct towards girls saying “don’t make decisions that will lead you to having an even harder life like this teen mom here…”  We don’t see many examples or images of teen dad’s in action.

  2. Allison

    Thanks for this post Anastasia and your attention to the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy! I have some info a project of the March of Dimes and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity that addresses pregnancy prevention for teen guys.

    Project Alpha is a collaborative project of the March of Dimes and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and is designed to provide education, motivation and skill-building on issues of responsibility, relationships, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases for young males ages 12-15 years.

    The program provides education for young males 12-15 years old on sexuality, fatherhood and the role of males in relationships. It motivates young men to make decisions about their goals and values, and act in ways that support their decisions. And it builds young men’s skills through role-playing and utilizes appropriate male role models and mentors.

    For more information on Project Alpha, you can visit and if you’re interested in getting in touch with someone about the program, there’s contact information on that page.

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