Plenty of people my age watch trashy reality fare like Rock of Love, but there’s one show I feel sort of ashamed to call my appointment television: MTV’s Teen Mom. Why am I so riveted by a show that’s about 18 year olds with babies? Two reasons: one, because it’s the exact opposite of my life; and two, because it’s dangerously close to what my life could have been if I’d made one or two decisions differently.
Like many of the girls on Teen Mom (and its companion series, 16 and Pregnant), I grew up in a medium-sized town and attended a school that didn’t teach us about sexuality, contraception, or STDs. Of all the moms on the show, I’d say my own background was the most similar to Maci’s – middle class family in a Southern town. There were many Macis, and Ambers, and Catelynns in my high school. Like Maci, I also dated an older guy who was already out of school and working. Like Farrah, I equated sex with being cool. And like almost all the girls on the show, I didn’t have access to birth control or much information about it.
What was it that kept me from having sex with my high school boyfriend and, possibly, getting pregnant as a teenager? It wasn’t the abstinence education policy at my school. If anything, it was the fact that there were several pregnant girls in my class, and that I was terrified of being one of them. I saw how “Karen”‘s boyfriend left her as soon as she found out she was pregnant. I saw how eight months pregnant “Debbie” walked down the aisle at graduation with her high school diploma and nobody clapped for her. I saw how “Julie” made her best friend promise not to tell anyone she’d got an abortion and then showed up at school the next day with “Baby Killer” written on her locker. I didn’t know much about sex, but I knew enough to know I didn’t know. That sense of fear – or was it shame? – kept me from becoming sexually active in my teens.