Targeting Boys in Fight against Teen Pregnancy More Programs Seek to Boost Responsibility in Adolescent Males

Article excerpt

The issue of teen pregnancy usually conjures images of a girl - barely out of elementary school, it seems - with a bulging belly.

But for every pregnant girl there's a boy or man who helped put her in that situation. He's "pregnant," too. And, advocates say, males need just as much counseling and attention as females on relationships, pregnancy prevention, and, if a baby is born, responsible parenting.

Nationwide, programs aimed at the guys are proliferating. * In Des Moines, Iowa, one called It Takes Two blends stand-up comedy and motivational speaking to capture teen boys' attention. One skit, "GI Joe and Barbie Go on a Date," illustrates gender roles in male-female communication. * In Philadelphia, the Responsive Fathers Program gathers boys into a series of school assemblies with male role models - teachers, staff, and volunteer fathers - to share experiences and puncture myths about "maleness." * In Greensboro, N.C., a program called Wise Guys stresses abstinence from sexual activity. Small groups of middle-school-aged boys are gathered weekly in schools, where organizers focus on values, communication, and sexuality. "We're in one of these swings where men and fathers are hot, and we have a more sophisticated generation of programs," says Freya Sonenstein, lead researcher for the book "Involving Males in Preventing Teen Pregnancy," released yesterday by the Urban Institute. "They're not just hiring an outreach worker to bring someone into a clinic with pink walls." Indeed, getting guys in the door isn't always easy. Since they're not the ones who actually get pregnant, they usually feel they have less at stake when they become sexually active. Some programs operate in boys' clubs, whose primary attraction is recreation. Others are centered in clinics, where boys go for sports physicals and other health issues. Some gather groups in juvenile detention centers, where a high percentage of residents already have children, to work on parenting skills and preventing future pregnancies. Success is hard to gauge. The teen pregnancy rate has dipped, and the average age of first intercourse for both boys and girls has gone up slightly, but both trends could be the result of various factors. The dramatic rise in condom use since 1979 may be as much a result of AIDS as a desire to prevent pregnancy. …