Commentary: Why I Like Chicago’s New Teen Pregnancy PSA Campaign

Addressing STDs, condom use and male responsibility in a non-shaming way works for me.

The first time I saw Chicago’s new teen pregnancy campaign on a subway platform, I did a double take. The ad boasted a shirtless teenage boy sporting a baby bump with the tag line: “Unexpected? Most teen pregnancies are. Avoid unplanned pregnancies and STIs. Use condoms. Or wait.”

The ads, created by the Chicago Department of Public Health, debuted in late April and are plastered on the Chicago Transit Authority trains, buses, platforms and bus shelters all throughout the city. Similar ads were featured in Milwaukee last year with the city seeing a decline in teen pregnancies.

Naturally, this highly publicized Windy City campaign has spurred a national debate on whether or not these are the most effective messages for young folks. And while these ads are a little jarring at first glance and may potentially confuse people into thinking this is about pregnant transgender men, here’s why I really like them.

First, this campaign turns the traditional conversation about teenage pregnancy in this country on its head.

For way too long, teen pregnancy has been seen solely as a girl’s problem: A problem easily fixed if she were on the pill or kept her legs closed. Very rarely are young men engaged about their role in reducing teen pregnancy rates. Not to mention, this emphasis on condom use is so crucial, especially given that in most heterosexual relationships, it’s the men who usually control whether or not condoms are used. 

Even better? Unlike the NYC teen pregnancy ads, the Chicago ones don’t demean, shame or talk down to young people. Most important, they don’t demonize young men as shiftless and irresponsible.

But what I really believe to be great about these ads is that the conversation about the consequences of unprotected sex transcends pregnancy or being on birth control. These ads address the issue of STDs, which for young people, especially African-American girls and boys, is really important, given that they bear the HIV/AIDS and STD epidemic in this country. It also links heterosexual boys to a conversation about STDs and HIV, which doesn’t happen nearly enough.

And so it’s refreshing to see all of these issues being discussed in the same conversation at the same time.

Now I am not naïve enough to believe that these ads alone will bring down teen pregnancy, STD and HIV rates. But as points out, this campaign is part of a larger effort to provide teens with comprehensive sex education. They wrote that the city “created websites like (features a diagram about how to put on a condom) or Sex-Ed (writing by teenagers about sex, pregnancy, health etc). They're also ramping up their Condom Availability Program.

And so I say kudos to Chicago for guiding the conversation in a direction that we have been way too slow to travel down.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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