The message comes too late for Mayra Mendoza.
The 17-year-old is due to deliver her first baby at the end of October, so she was already pregnant by the time the state Department of Health Services began running TV ads urging teens who are having sex to use birth control.
It’s a huge step forward for the health department, which until this year has been preaching the abstinence-only message through an extensive media campaign and school-based programs.
In exchange for accepting millions of dollars in federal teen pregnancy prevention funding, the state had to agree not to talk about birth control. The state also used a portion of tobacco tax money for the same purpose.
So for the past several years, the message to teens has been just say no, no, no, even though everyone involved with the programs knows most teens are saying yes, yes, yes.
Mendoza said she could have used the information.
"All they tell you in school is ‘Don’t have sex,’ " she said. "But it’s like, kids are going to do it. Most people I know do have sex. They just don’t have condoms available, so they end up pregnant or with STDs."
At Compadre High School in Tempe, where Mendoza is a senior, 20 pregnant teens are attending classes through the Adolescent Pregnancy and Parenting Program. The program serves another 50 teens in the Tempe Union High School District who already are parents.
"It just takes us out of the Dark Ages," program director Julie Lessard said of the state’s ad campaign. "The younger ones are going to hear the abstinence message. But when they’re older . . . and they are becoming sexually active, then they need to be educated about how to protect themselves."
Seems like a no-brainer. But critics call it a mixed message. They say teens should be taught, unequivocally, that sex at their age is wrong. Any talk of condoms or other forms of birth control only weakens the message.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that no parents want their teenager to have sex. And most don’t want to believe that they are. But surveys of teens, teen pregnancy and teen birth rate statistics — and young people like Mayra Mendoza — show that, indeed, teenagers do have sex. To preach abstinence to those kids, the state has finally agreed, not only ignores reality but endangers their health.
Mendoza is hearing a lot about birth control now, as Lessard and others educate her about how to avoid having another child.
"I know this (baby) is going to limit me a lot as to what I can and can’t do," she said. "I would definitely have appreciated being told my options before. . . . Why didn’t they tell me this before I had the baby?"