Photo of 2011 Youth Leadership Team members by Stephen Jeter.
I read Laura Sessions Stepps' March 6th CNN article with interest. Laura poses the question "Why don't we hear more from ordinary men" regarding the recent contraception controversy. She suggests--and I agree--that many men from the baby boom generation were not part of the contraceptive decision-making process in their personal relationships. Those very same men are the policy decision-makers of today, though that lack of involvement doesn't seem to have prevented them from having some strong opinions (Hence, an all-male Congressional panel debating the whether insurance companies should be required to cover contraception under health reform.)
Laura continues the article with the hope that the succeeding generation will be different. Her research indicates that 20-something men are more involved in contraceptive decision-making. My own observation of teenage boys is that this trend of increased involvement will become the new norm.
With teenage girls in the house, and therefore teenage boys hanging around, I have developed a new respect for the interest and--yes--responsibility, that teenage boys are taking regarding birth control. I unfortunately cannot credit the local school system for this interest. (Not so funny story: in my daughter's high school freshman physical education class, approximately three days were devoted to the complexities of sexual health, sexual relationships, and protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. And the best advice given by the teacher if the young people were to experience sexual urges was to "bake cookies." Honestly.)
I also cannot credit as many parents as I would like. Some parents I know talk often to their boys about healthy sexuality, responsibility, and birth control. But many do not. One mom told me recently, "I depend on the moms of daughters to talk to their girls, because, you know, I have a boy and there is really nothing I can say to him."
Frankly, I credit the media--both social and otherwise--and the teenage boys themselves for the new level of interest in birth control. The boys don't want "anything bad to happen" and they clearly think that untimely pregnancy is bad. Television programs like 16 & Pregnant paint an often painful future for teen fathers, one that my daughters' friends do not want. They know that they will be responsible for paying for the babies. They know that a teen pregnancy can spell the end to fun, partying, and just "hanging out" (hanging out being high on any teen's priority list). And the internet, while no doubt providing more than its fair share of misinformation, certainly has a wealth of easy-to-find sites for teens that provide dating and relationship advice, contraceptive information,* and and facts about sexually transmitted infections.
While they may not always be keen to use condoms, teenage boys will ask outright what birth control a girl is using. I admit that it appears that these teen boys I am praising believe that birth control is primarily the girl's responsibility. But I am talking about 17-year-old boys, not known for overt responsibility-taking in any case. Simply being aware and asking about contraceptive use is the first step, and I, for one, am delighted that these boys are taking it. It bodes well for the future of contraceptive use as well as public policy.
*Bedsider is targeted to 18-29-year-old women and, while we think it can be a great resource for guys, it may not be appropriate for teens under 18.