When I was 13, my father handed
me a slim paperback titled The Facts of Life and
Love for Teenagers. My little book became the hottest
item at camp that summer. By the end of my two-week
stay, it was in shreds. Like most children, my campmates
learned about sex from a peer-- me (or at least my book).
And my career as a sexuality educator was launched.
The only problem was that I didn't understand much of
what I read and I was too embarrassed to ask questions.
No one in my home said "sex." Ancient history?
|Gloria Feldt, President of Planned
(Photo by Marty Lederhandler/AP Photo)
Girls face a triple whammy
on the path to womanhood. It starts with
lack of knowledge. Then there is the shame about sexuality
that comes from our society's silence about it. Shame
and lack of knowledge are bound together by cultural
cues about gender roles into a toxic combination that
turns many a strong girl into a teenage jelly woman
who molds her personality and her body to fit what
she thinks the world wants her to be.
As I was starting high school, my family moved to
Stamford, a red-dirt cotton farming community in West
Texas. I set out to be sociable and well-liked instead
of an achiever. If a girl was intelligent and able,
she could be a social misfit. I still got good grades
but I managed to hide it. I was elected freshman class
favorite and VP of the sophomore class. In my junior
year, I was elected cheerleader unanimously. Mission
accomplished. I had overcome not only the burden of
my intelligence, but that other teenage horror-differentness.
We were not only new; we were the only Jewish family
in town. I had a serious case of déjà
vu when this letter came across my desk at Planned
Parenthood recently from a woman 25 years my junior:
I was 15 years old
when I became pregnant by the "love of my life."
I knew it would last forever. I really thought I wanted
to be a parent. I was the only child of divorced parents
and I knew the baby would make me happy. Thank God
my mother worked for Planned Parenthood in Odessa,
Texas. I ended up having an abortion in a doctor's
my mom there to hold my hand afterwards. I have never
had any regrets.
I am now the mother of four daughters, who I wouldn't
trade for anything in the world. But I'm so thankful
that I did not become a parent at fifteen! Wake up
America! Talk to your children. Let them know that
teens having babies is not acceptable behavior. --Wendy,
Wendy and I lived in different times
and made different choices about our
pregnancies, but we both learned the same life lessons
from our experiences.
The fall I was 15, my 19-year-old
boyfriend and I announced to my parents that we were
married, pregnant, and moving to Odessa, Texas. To
save face for everyone, I felt that I had to tell
my family I was married rather than admit that I was
just another frightened 15-year-old desperately in
need of help. I was not strong enough to fight for
my own identity. Instead, I melted into a new mold.
So I got what I had always wanted-to be "normal"-the
average all-American girl. So average that, unbeknownst
to me, the country registered its highest teen pregnancy
rate the year-1957-- I became a part of that statistic.
I remember well the moment
five years later, when I decided I was no longer the
jelly woman; I should take care of myself.
After our third child was born, a light bulb went
off in my head. I realized that if I had to support
those three children, I would be up a creek, because
I had no employable skills.
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