A BIrth Control Message – courtesy of Bruce Springsteen

The following is an encore performance for a post written nine years ago. This time it was inspired by our musically inclined blogging friend Clive, whose specific post is linked to below. He has a link to the song on his post.

With due respect and credit for inspiration to one of my favorite bloggers, Jenni at www.newsforthetimes.wordpress.com, who publishes a Tune Tuesday weekly post on the personal or societal impact of a favorite song or singer, I want to use one of Bruce Springsteen’s songs to embellish a point I have been making the past few months. I think I have cited the Boss on a couple of occasions, but I want to lift some lyrics from one of my favorite songs of his “The River” which is pertinent to my point of readily available birth control and education. This song is about a man remembering nostalgically how he used to go “down to the river” with his girlfriend and how life was much simpler before she got pregnant with his child.

The lyrics I want to quote are as follows:

“Then, I got Mary pregnant and man, that was all she wrote.

And, for my nineteenth birthday I got a union card and a wedding coat.

We went down to the courthouse and the judge put it all to rest.

No wedding day smiles, no walk down the aisle.

No flowers, no wedding dress.”

In my post “If Churches Really Want to Make a Difference” a few weeks ago, I suggest that the church should be more involved with legitimate sex education with their young teenagers, including the use of contraception. Kids don’t know enough about this subject and it is the thing they talk most about. The peer pressure is intense. It is more than OK to discuss abstinence, but if you remember your teenage years, that is not going to happen very often. I won’t repeat all of the points made therein, but informed teens should be aware of the need for protected sex as well as ways to say no, if they feel pressured (if a girl) and ways to treat a girl who is saying no (if a boy).

The LA Times reported just this week that data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed the birthrate among American teens between  15 and 19, while decreased since 1991 is still at 34.3 births per 1,000 women. That rate is 5 times the teen birthrate in France and 2 1/2 times the teen birthrate in Canada. It is also higher than the rates in China and Russia. THe CDC reports that 80% of teen pregnancies are unintended meaning after unprotected sex or under protected sex. We have a higher incidence of sexual assault among teens as well.

Using Springsteen’s song, Mary did not need to end up pregnant. With birth control access and better sex education, Mary and the boy could have been more adroit at handling the issue before the heat of the moment caused a fate accompli. The rest of the song talks about how Mary and the boy go through the motions of life after being forced to do the right thing and marry. Their dreams were stifled. Yet, if she could say no, or have protected intercourse, then their lives need not be over.

My main point is so many issues could be better addressed through a better protected and more informed group of teenagers. There is high correlation to poverty and family size, especially if the family starts early. There is a high percentage of single parents in teen mothers, so in more cases than not, Mary’s beau would have left the building. With fewer unwanted pregnancies, then there would be fewer abortions. And, our teens would have a chance to grow up more before they start having babies. Finally, per Dr, Cora Breuner of Seattle Children’s Hospital, babies born to teens tend to fare more poorly than babies delivered to older age group parents.

I also believe the education part is just as vital. If the young girls and boys hear from respected sources about these very important life issues, they will be better positioned to handle them. More and more kids are not seeing churches in the same light as their parents. Some churches are actually driving people away with their evangelicalism. I firmly believe if you provide more venues to talk in an intelligent way with the teens about their problems, they will attend and listen. They don’t need to be preached to on the subject, but abstinence is an acceptable discussion point. I think it is important to note that you do not have to have sex if you are being pressured into doing so.

Per Dr. Breuner as reported by the LA Times, “We really can do better. By providing more education and improving access to contraception and more education about family planning, we can do better.” Note, Breuner helped write the new policy statement as a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Committee on Adolescence.

Springsteen, as usual, vividly depicts a real world problem. I think his song could be played during the sex education classes. These kids loved each other (or at least thought they did), gave into passion and after unprotected sex, their dreams were over. This is reality. Why should we not finds ways to educate and help before the “point of reckoning” rather than to let the kids figure it out after it is too late. In today’s time, it can be even worse when a STD enters the equation.

Thanks Bruce for your terrific song. “The River” can permit the dream to continue with protected sex. And, for parents and church leaders who want to throw the bible at me, let me quote a truism that I said in my previous post. Teenagers are going to have sex. If you do not believe me, there is an evangelical university within a three-hour drive of where I live. These young church raised kids “go crazy” when they get away from mom and dad. I actually cleaned that up a little from the quote from someone who attended there. So, we should help them on their journey by giving them the tools and education they need.


28 thoughts on “A BIrth Control Message – courtesy of Bruce Springsteen

  1. Those rates align perfectly with how religious each county is in the country AND how Republican. It also aligns internationally by the same metric. This is not a coincidence. So asking churches to help reduce unwanted teen pregnancies by teaching teens is like asking the arsonist to help teaching fire safety.

    • To me it is missed opportunity, if done in a holistic way. If the focus is only on abstinence, then that is not remembering what it is like to be a teen. I have written before how an Aftican-American friend was asked by teens in her church about sex. She went to the minister to set up some classes to teach them more and was laughed at. She got questions like “Is it true you cannot get pregnant the first time?” Or “Is it true you cannot get pregnant having sex while standing up?” Again, to me it is missed opportunity.

      • Well, it’s an ‘opportunity’ only because in many of the dominant religions pre-marital sex is categorized as a sin or a moral failure best avoided. So you want it both ways, Keith. And this is the root problem: reality doesn’t work this way.

  2. Thanks, Keith, for this excellent post, well thought out and presented logically without ranting. I completely agree that information is power. Better-informed teens will make better choices. Telling teens to abstain is like telling water to run uphill. And misinformation will lead to more pregnancies, not fewer. I used to work in mental health, specifically with young children and their young single moms. The poverty, lack of opportunity, and stress was nearly debilitating, not only for the moms but for the children.

    • But the problem is that such information is widely considered in the religious community to be promoting sexual immorality and teen pregnancy! (Almost but not quite as bad as, committing the moral indecency of allowing young drivers to take driver’s education. I mean, people die on the road! Driver’s Ed promotes teenage death, donchaknow! One must be an atheistic secular immoral eugenicist to think promoting teenage death is a good thing, you see. Such is the logic that necessarily and always follows religious diddling.)

      When information is reframed in religious thinking, only mis- and disinformation results. The same is true when religion diddles in medicine, in women’s equality rights, in politics, and so on. Religion is the tail that is wagging the social dog here and people wonder why we get so many unnecessary problems and massive harm as a result. Who could have known? Religious belief is not designed to be “well thought out and presented logically;” it is designed to promote belief in the dogma accompanied by the alternative of everlasting threat and punishment for failure to abide. It has NOTHING to do with addressing real world problems with real world solutions. The notion of using churches to ‘advance’ sex education is so absurd as to be laughable because the problem like teen pregnancy is very much caused by the kind of ignorance that religious belief promotes under the guise of its diddling ‘morality’ imposed by hook and by crook on everyone in underhanded and backroom influence many mainstream religious organizations use to grow their own power. Teenage pregnancy is of no consequence to this ongoing and often widely applauded tactic by the religious. I mean, look at Coney Barret’s idiotic statements from the Supreme Court to excuse making abortion all but illegal that – oh, by the way – just so happens to align with her Catholicism. The very real medical concerns of pregnant women is of no consequence whatsoever to such religiously motivated thinking. And it never will be. Keith is simply howling into the wind here. By doing so, he unwittingly excuses the religious cohort from OWNING this problem of promoting teenage preganancy by the use of ignorance and threat.

      You want a solution? The data is unequivocal: stop pretending religion belief offers us any social good outside of the church’s doors. Its moral compass is missing in action.

      • You’re preaching to an atheist here. I completely agree that religion (especially in the US) is nuts. But that’s a generalization, and there are religious people who actually believe in the teachings of Christ, etc. and many of them are rational. (Some of them are friends!) They’re the ones who are worthy of a an intelligent conversation. I LOVE to rant, but rarely will that change someone’s mind. ❤

    • Thanks Diana. Your experiences are informational. You allude to a correlation between unwanted pregnancies and poverty. There is also a correlation with larger family size and poverty. Birth control and education would help with both. Thanks, Keith

  3. You make an important point, Keith. But I fear that prevailing attitudes in education and religious beliefs mean you are probably trying to push water uphill with a rake. There seems to be a prevailing ‘sex before marriage is wrong’ attitude that is still with us, even after many years of gradual increases in social awareness, and which is totally devoid of any recognition of the realities of life. But we need to keep hope that changes will come.

    And thank you for the plug 😊

    • Clive, I got tickled you added the rake. I like to make it simple, it matters not what parents believe or want, the temptation for teens to have sex at even earlier ages than we were tempted is powerful. So, arming them with information and resources is prudent.

      You are welcome on the link. I hope folks take advantage of it and go take a peek and listen. Keith

    • VJ, that speaks volumes. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law taught 8th and 9th grades in rural SC. Both saw pregnancies in their classes. That is way too soon. Keith

    • Erika, you are so right on both counts. The kids know more than we did at this age, but have way too many questions and unknowns. In being exposed so early, questions that used to surface in high school now are being asked in middle school when kids are even more ill-prepared. Keith

      • Yes, yes, that’s so right! And an additional problem is that the inhibition treshold is lower. At least in my circle of friends, the young adults were way more shy or had more respect from particular steps.

      • Erika, so true. When I saw data on how much earlier kids are losing their virginity, it is eye-opening. I commented above that my brother- and sister-in-law saw a number of pregnancies in their 8th and 9th grade classes. One of the girls noted it helped with her self-esteem, which is another area where sex education should focus. Saying no is more than OK. Keith

  4. Good morning Keith.
    Your thorough and thoughtful post highlights another issue as old as ‘Goodness Knows’. We start at the basic biological premise that species have an urge to procreate and as Humanity invented its communities the whole business took on social & ‘leisure’ significances. Belief systems, be they religious or political sought to codify behaviour and bring types of order (that’s a very broad term). In trying to fit those two together there was always going to be a conflict, which neatly for male dominated societies meant the woman got the blame for everything going wrong in the procreation / leisure process and took the whole burden (of course).
    Skipping the centuries and basically matters have not moved on much; save that we have a ‘sex is OK’ theme-set, which is actually OK, if you leave out the commercialisation and pressure on girls to participate (at which point they become ‘sluts’ and lads become ‘jocks’……go figure). That personally workies me as the burdens have not shifted from women, yet.
    Sadly in the USA as with everything else the whole business if now dividing up upon political lines. In this case breath-taking hypocritical as the idea of the whole Right /Republican movement taking an austere ‘Now dear wife, let us away to our bedroom where we shall lock(eth) the door, switch out the lights and in blessed union endeavour to create a child’ approach to life; well considering a lot of antics on that side of politics, just does not hold water.
    Of course sex-education and birth control are responsible approaches. In terms of Human History as public approaches they are new on the block; sex for fun and hypocrisy are not. A long tough road to go. And as if often the case these days, one side of the debate is not being constructive, in a hostile way.
    Take care

    • Roger, I always enjoy your perspective and historical framework, as well as the manner in which you offer it. Part of what you say appears in the book “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristoff and Shery; WuDunn, where religious texts have made women subservient across many religions. From the concept of genital mutilation to being sold into marriage before the girl’s body can withstand the pressure of child birth are just two examples. Religious texts have almost always been written by men (even if divinely inspired), so their bias to control the narrative enters in.

      Your closing paragraph speaks volumes about sex education and birth control being “responsible approaches.” I have actually spoken at a couple of churches about poverty and homelessness, and sex education and birth control are recognized by their ministers as ways to lessen poverty. Yet, their more progressive view is not universal in churches, which as I note above is opportunity lost, as churches tend to have the trust of their parishioners, whether fully deserved or not..

      One of my push backs on the more zealous evangelicals is what you do behind closed bedroom doors is none of my concern if it is consensual. And, the same is true for what goes on behind my bedroom doors is none of yours. Full stop.

      As for the reasonable approach, the state of Colorado did a study a few years ago and family planning efforts were shown to save money for the state’s health care budget, lessen the number of abortions, and reduce the prevalence of STDs. If that were not enough, the US is globally very high, especially in poorer states, on “maternal mortality,” meaning women dying in childbirth. Birth control, sex education, are not just words – they work. Thanks again for your comments. Keith

      • Thank you very much Keith, I sometimes wonder if my replies are a bit too long and Martin Lutherish in outlook. Thanks again.

        Firstly how ‘workies’ got into the script? ‘k’ is not even close to ‘r’ on the keyboard…should have been ‘worries’. Sorry about that.

        You are to be applauded for speaking up on this issue in churches, as you say, this is a place where the folk- the parishioners tend to trust the most. If some feel a little uncomfortable about the issues of sex education and birth control, it is as well, for there is a truth to be examined.

        I don’t think the zealots would care to read too deeply into the Bible, women tend to keep cropping up in pretty important roles. Just consider the days following Christ’s crucifixion, it was women and not men who dared to go to the tomb and bring the news of the Resurrection. Where were the men? All hiding. And then we have Jael and her tent peg solution to an invasion of Israel. That’s just two.

        It seems to be men need to ‘Man’ up and realise that to be truly A Man you treat A Woman as equal- Put yourself in a woman’s place and consider the trials of the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, childbirth, post natal and menopause. And what do we as men have to worry about? (That was rhetorical, because my literal answer tends to get…shall we say ‘locker room’).
        Women might not be able to lift the same weights as men, run as fast and so forth, but they sure as heck are the tougher sex.

      • Thanks Roger. Well said. You would think those parts of the bible would be taught in greater detail. Going one step further, when the Romans severely clamped down on Christians, women played a key role in keeping the faith going. You are so right about the strength of women. Keith

  5. Really interesting. I was bought up with strict pentecostal teaching which created a massive amount of guilt around sex. Striving to keep our desires under control as teenagers then being loaded with guilt if we didnt caused problems for me and my first love who became my husband and father of our 4 children. That guilt caused problems in our marriage too and although not the whole reason we divorced it was definitely a part of it. My children are much more balanced as they dont carry the same guilt. Really interesting topic Keith.

    • Alison, thank you for your candor. Fighting engrained notions on how to act or be can be a burden that stays with us. People that taught us to feel guilty about our desires and passions may have meant well, but did us a disservice. Keith

  6. I love the words to the song.. don’t think I ever listened to that one but so powerful as are your words on the subject. This is vital and when religion irks me and I find solace in a spiritual path and care of our souls and we most certainly do not need any more poor babies in the hands of those that can’t care for them emotionally and physically💖

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