There must be roughly 317 reality shows on television today. Huddled in our homes at the end of a long day, it seems we are living more and more vicariously through them - be they Biggest Losers, or Amazon Adventurers. It's fishbowl television and certainly many of these shows are simply shock and awe, meant to keep us watching in a more voyeuristic kind of way. This is not so much the case with the reality show "16 and Pregnant
." It's a series that follows the tremulous and fragmented lives of pregnant high school girls and the boys who have impregnated them.
Is it good? Well, at least it raises awareness of the consequences, intense stress, need for commitment, and sacrifice that being sexually active and not being married can bring. Sexual intercourse is a life-changer, and potentially a life-maker in fact. Once you open up that gift (or even tear at the wrapping paper before its time to receive the gift), your life will never be the same. For many on the show, and for many watching it, "16 and Pregnant" is a wake up call.
It can be crass, it can be insanely frustrating to watch, and it often condones things that as Catholics we know are only exacerbating the problem. But even through these crooked lines, sometimes they get it right. The show appears to be very pro-life. All of the girls choose to carry their babies to term. However, there is a strong contraceptive mentality that slithers through the show like a serpent, and it's this point that I find disturbing and deceptive. The adult advice from Dr. Drew is not "stop being sexually active, kids. You have an amazing power and need to be ready for mommyhood and daddyhood if you're going to have sex." The advice is "protect yourselves" from this problem of pregnancy. They are consistently told to don the "bullet-proof" vest of a condom, etc, before entering into the battle of the hormones. By the way, the real stats on the reliability of condoms in use by teens is another story altogether.
Almost one in four low-income teens (23.2%) who rely on condoms will become pregnant in a year. If these teens cohabit (and are therefore more sexually active), almost three in four (71.7%) who rely on condoms will become pregnant within a year. (Contraception: The Fine Print by Susan E. Wills, Esq.)
The effort to raise awareness of the teen pregnancy crisis, and assist teens through it, or to teach them how to avoid it, is very commendable. But to perpetuate the problem by pushing contraception, or turning a blind eye at cohabitation does them a grave disservice. Is this the best we can offer young people today? Taking the seemless garment of pleasure and procreation, love and life, bonding and babies and tearing them in two as if they were made from a different fabric? Aren't pregnancy and sex connected? Should we really have one without the other? Common sense tells us that tearing a thing apart kills it, and "what God has joined," well, you know the rest of that line. This garment is meant to be white for purity and worn on the wedding day, and pulled back to reveal the gift of self only to your beloved for life. That's when it shines the best. Teach this truth with passion, reverence, and sensitivity and I believe the young will rise to the challenge.
Here is where the fallout from the sexual revolution of the 60's hits us. After nearly 50 years, the field of male/female relations is still radioactive and the infected are leading the infected. The season two finale of "16 and Pregnant" interviewed each mom (and sometimes the father) and asked the question "Are you still sexually active?" To which came the response, between sheepish giggles, "yesssss..." "Are you using contraception?" "Oh yeeeeesss! We won't make that same mistake again!"
Hmm. Pregnancy = mistake, problem. In the words of Dr. Janet Smith, "If you get pregnant during an act of sexual intercourse, it means something went right, not something went wrong!" (Contraception: Why Not? CD, www.mycatholicfaith.org) Here lies another hole in the head and in the heart that the Theology of the Body could have perfectly filled. Studies have shown that simply shoving contraception at teens only creates what's called "risk compensation." Ever wonder why teen pregnancies continue to rise after decades of "safe sex" talk? One deterrent to premarital sex was the risk of getting pregnant, but slide in contraception and tell kids to be "safe" and kids think they are "safe." More of them, now equipped with more contraception, feel at liberty to have more sex. And the more sex is engaged in the more chances there are for becoming pregnant.
Those who mistakenly believe that contraception protects them from pregnancy and STDs are more likely to become sexually active at an earlier age and to engage in riskier activity, such as having more sexual partners. (Susan Wills)
This sad fact is perpetuating itself as we push more contraceptives on kids. This is in addition to the "unseen" scars premature sexual activity brings to youth; unhealthy attachments, emotional dependency, depression, general distraction and confusion about who they are and where they are going at a tenderly decisive age of life.
The bottom line is this: contraception is not stopping 16 year olds from having sex and getting pregnant, and handing it out in a teen's back to school kit is essentially giving them license. So what do we do? Just pull our thumbs out of the dam and let the breaching waters of teen hormones flood the culture? No. I suggest honest and straightforward talk about everything, starting with the wondrous beauty of our God-given sexuality, then tackling the contradiction of a contraceptive mentality. When they see what lies at its heart, perhaps teens will choose the higher path of chastity until marriage.
So my dear young people, here's the skinny: contraception literally creates a wall between people - between bodies and between hearts. It holds back an essential part of the total self-gift of who we are and who we're called to be. It literally means "against the beginning." What lies at our beginning, you ask? Well, for believers it was a call to be fruitful and multiply. Yup, that means just what you think it means, but hear that first commandment of God in all of its glorious and beautiful context! See the seemless garment that is woven from the fabric of sexual intercourse, fertility, pregnancy, motherhood... These are truly signs of the Divine in our midst. And the garden in which they were meant to flourish was marriage, and the sower of the seed was meant to "cleave to his wife" as husband and father; chivalrous, chaste, with reverence for the gift of woman, fertility, love, and the fruit of that love. Pregnancy is meant to be the jewel in the crown of a free, total, faithful, and fruitful love, also known as marriage.
For Catholics, this month of May is a joyous reminder of Mother Mary, and as nature's blossoms break abundantly, we see the same fruitfulness in spirit as in the natural world. Life is good! Motherhood is good! Fatherhood is good! Fertility is good! In the midst of the massive sexual disorientation
in our culture, there is still a chance to "see the light." In pregnancy we have been given a refresher of the pure gift of sexuality, intimacy, fertility, and the sheer wonder of bringing a human life into the world. May the young and old, from 16 to 70 come to a new reverence and appreciation for the gift of sexuality and the miracle of the family. May Joseph be the light to show men and boys alike the high call entrusted to them of the care and protection, love and devotion they are called to give as husbands and fathers. And may Mary, herself once sixteen and pregnant, be an example for us all of the power of a YES to Life, no matter how difficult the path ahead may be!
Originally published in the Catholic Standard and Times