Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Shades of Salem?

I was surprised when I heard - via an American friend - that a rise in teen pregnancy rates in a small East coast US town had hit Time Magazine. Hardly the stuff that front page covers are made of, I would have thought. This story, however, hinged on the claim that there the girls had agreed to get pregnant en masse.

Now that was interesting. I was intrigued when I read the Time feature - and so, apparently, was every news desk in the world. Within hours, Google had several hundred thousand hits on the story and the reader postings on each of those individual stories were numbering in the millions.

The facts are these. Having had a pregnancy rate of about 4 per year up to 2007, over the past year 17 of the female students of Gloucester High fall pregnant. Then, when interviewed by Time magazine, the school principal reports that the girls have a 'pact' with each other to aim for motherhood, and that the repeated queuing for pregnancy tests - and the high-fives on getting positive results - are part of a planned project. All of a sudden it's mayhem. The school officials are unavailable for comment. The town officials call an emergency meeting excluding the Principal. Gloucester's mayor is quoted as denying a "blood-oath bond".

Excuse me? Blood oath bond? Secret pact? I'm not suggesting it's great that 17 girls are currently having to face the challenges of motherhood far too early in their young lives. I'm not claiming we should approve if they did all dare each other to get pregnant. And I'm not saying that we - and all countries with a high teenage pregnancy rate - shouldn't be doing our best to lower that rate (ironically, Gloucester officials recently opposed attempts by local sexual health projects to issue contraceptives to school students).

But it does seem to me - whether or not the story is true - to be a huge overreaction, an overreaction by a society that seems threatened by any hint that young girls might decide to take their lives into their own hands. The principal's original term 'pact', the mayor's term 'blood-oath bond' and more worryingly, the willingness of the press to pick up and run with those loaded terms seem to me to be out of all proportion to the original 17 pregnancies. Shades of Midwich Cuckoos, Villa of the Damned. and the Salem witch trials - which actually happened only 10 miles from Gloucester.

Let's not get threatened by this. Let's not turn natural disapproval into a witchhunt. Let's not see this as any more than it is - a troupe of insecure, immature teens who want to love and be loved and - instinctively knowing that motherhood is a wonderful thing - decide to go for it.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Lust to love - what next?

We like to think we live in an age where sex can be utterly casual, no strings, no commitment. But sex is a powerful bonding mechanism, and so very often - and this goes for the lads as well as for the girls - something that started as pure pleasure turns into something much more significant and much deeper. If you find yourself falling in love with someone with whom you've agreed to have a 'casual' relationship, what should you do?
  • Be honest with yourself; don't keep on pretending you don't care when actually you do.
  • Give it space. Take the time to think things over and find out what you really feel about your partner.
  • Be honest. Tell your partner what you feel - it's only fair. If they back off, then they were a lost cause anyway.
  • If your love isn't returned, don't wobble or pressure: there's no law to say that just because you have fallen in love, your partner should too.
  • You can't make someone else love you - but you can save yourself from heartbreak. Set a time limit of - say - three months, then walk away.
  • Don't rush into more casual sex - after rejection, you'll just be that much more vulnerable to falling in love again.
  • If your love is returned, celebrate hugely. Lust that turns into love is a wonderful thing!