Some people want to yell to characters in horror movies, but episodes like this week’s“16 & Pregnant” have me yelling at my TV. Instead of “Don’t go in there!” it is more like, “Don’t move out with him!” Hopefully this episode will serve as a voice to yell to teens in similar relationships, “Don’t have unprotected sex! Don’t date this person! Don’t pick your boyfriend over your mom!”
Seventeen-year-old Felicia, another Texas teen, struggles to be the first in her family to graduate high school while balancing new motherhood and a rocky relationship. Her boyfriend, a barber named Alex, displays a lot of red flags from the beginning that he might not be the most supportive teen father.
While the couple discusses how things have “changed” since Felicia became pregnant, and even though Felicia assures her mom that she will be able to graduate high school because she has Alex to support her, it is hard to believe that Alex was a very supportive boyfriend to begin with judging from his behavior on the episode.
After many arguments with her mom, Alex talks Felicia into moving out of her parent’s house and in with her sister so that they have more freedom and privacy. Except, instead of using this newfound freedom to start building their family, he uses it to come and (mostly) go as he pleases.
At 2:30 one morning, while he’s getting a tattoo, he explains to his friends, “I don’t like always to be, like, right there.”
So far, this season of “16 & Pregnant” seems a little grittier. After last week’s IUD insertion, this week Felicia is shown receiving her epidural and throwing up (while crying) during labor. During all of this, Alex asks her, “Why you taking so long? Huh?” and says, “Come on. It’s taking forever. Just push.” It’s really no surprise to anyone except Felicia that shortly after baby Genesis is born, Alex leaves “to change clothes” and doesn’t return.
In a show of great maturity, Felicia realizes that when she leaves the hospital, she should probably move back in with her parents so that she has some help raising her new daughter.
Felicia says on the after show interview that she is still on track to graduate high school. She also says she and Alex are still together, but doesn’t have much faith that things will last forever.
In one of the obligatory and awkwardly-staged scenes in every show, Felicia talks to her friends about how she got pregnant. She tells her friends that she and Alex had been together for two years and “barely” used condoms. While her friends were clearly prompted by the show to ask “how,” they weren’t prompted to ask “Why?” Why did they barely use condoms?
On the after-show Su-chin Pak asks Felicia why they didn’t use condoms, and she explains that they had sex for two years, so she just didn’t think it would happen. Felicia and Alex aren’t alone in this risky behavior. According to the CDC, in 2009 only 57.7% of sexually active Texas high school students reported using a condom during their last sexual encounter, a number similar for S.C. at 60% and the U.S. at 61.1%.
Even after the show and after her answer, I’m left wondering, “Why?” Why didn’t they know that the “it hasn’t happened yet”-method is not an effective form of birth control? Even though the show is giving a grittier portrayal of teen pregnancy, there is still room for more reality on this reality show.
By Elizabeth Benfield, graduate assistant at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, MPH student at the University of South Carolina's Arnold School of Public Health