TLC Takes on Teen Pregnancy, Hershey School Reluctantly Admits HIV-postive Students, and Sex Before Sports is OK


The Learning Channel Takes on Teen Pregnancy in Two New Shows

A few weeks ago a Louisiana school made headlines for a pregnancy policy that said any young woman suspected of being pregnant would be forced to take a pregnancy test (using a doctor of the school’s choosing) and if she is found pregnant she would no longer be welcome in class. She could choose homeschooling or a “different educational opportunity.” Such a policy seemed to be taking us back to fifties when pregnant teenagers were shipped off to homes for unwed mothers while their families pretended they were spending a few months with relatives in the country. Two new TLC shows, however, are here to remind us that we’re in 2012 where instead of being hidden from the neighbors prying eyes, they are exposed to the prying eyes of the nation on reality TV shows and tabloid magazine covers. 

The first of the shows was a special that aired the first week of August aptly titled My Teen is Pregnant and So Am I. The special followed two families in the unique situation in which a mother and her daughter are pregnant at the same time. (Wasn’t this the plot of the Father of the Bride, II?)  Never one to miss an opportunity for melodrama, TLC had this to say about the show:

My Teen Is Pregnant and So Am I offers a captivating look inside two families as they struggle to deal with two generations of women sharing this life changing experience together. And as their bellies grow, so does the tension. Through tears and turmoil, joy and heartbreak, these mothers and daughters have nine months to fight through their battles and learn to lean on each other while they come to terms with their extraordinary new lives.

From the number times I’ve written about TV shows, it would be easy to believe that I spend most of my life watching television but somehow I missed this one. The clips I watched on the TLC website, however, seem to suggest a tone of high drama.  In one, a 17-year-old and her 40-year-old get back to back sonograms and we watch as the mother cries through her daughter’s procedure explaining that “it wasn’t supposed to be like this, you’re still a kid.”  The daughter, in a taped interview, cries when she says she knows how much she disappointed her parents.  (I’m sure there are many more heart-to-hearts with the camera but I wonder if anyone ever mentions that her mother’s pregnancy seems to have been unplanned as well and asks whether the mother is equally disappointed in herself?)

Without having seen the whole thing, I will just say that it seems to be in line with the network’s other shows that invite us to be voyeurs into the reproductive lives of others from Virgin Diaries to I Didn’t Know I was Pregnant to 19 Kids and Counting.

The network’s other offering, however, seems to be taking a slightly different tact. High School Moms is a new series that premiered Sunday August 12th and follows students at a school for pregnant and parenting teens.The promo shows a girl in labor questioning whether she’s prepared and another teen with a toddler who mentions that her baby’s father is in jail. 

Since I’ve been on vacation without (gulp) cable access, I have not seen this one either but plan to watch it this week.  I am expecting it to be the same kind of sensationalized drama that we’re used to, but I have to say that one clip that TLC has available on its website makes me question (hope?) that it will be different.  In this clip, a young girl talks about how this school saved her and provided her a second chance because it’s hard to catch up with a toddler at home but she is going to graduate and she is going to go to college.  Fingers crossed that this series can show us a realistic picture of teen parenting and a good example of how adults can support young women in this situation. 

Hershey School Changes Course and Offers Enrollment to HIV-Positive Student
In December of last year, the Milton Hershey School—a K-12 boarding school named after the chocolate magnate—denied admission to a 13-year-old boy because he is HIV positive. The school, founded in 1909, was originally intended for white male orphans but has since expanded to a more diverse population though students must be from low-income families in order to be admitted.

The school claimed that he was threat to the other student because it’s a residential facility and someday he might have sex with another student. To be precise the school’s spokesperson said:

 “We had to balance his rights and interests with our obligation to provide for the health and safety of other students. And this meets a direct threat.”  

The school acknowledged that there is no threat from coughing, hugging, or sharing bathrooms but called the possibility that the student, who will live with others in on-campus housing, might have sex a direct threat.  She explained:

“Despite encouraging abstinence, we can not be 100 percent certain our kids are not engaging in sexual activity.”

True, no school—boarding or not—can be 100 percent sure that its students aren’t having sex.  In fact, if you ask me most schools can be 100 percent sure that at least some of their students are having sex. Still, the answer is not to kick out any student who has or might have an STD.  The answer is to provide the education (and maybe even the condoms) that students need to protect themselves from all STDs as well as unintended pregnancy.  

In addition to being ridiculous, the school’s argument is in violation of the American Disabilities Act (ADA) according to the AIDS Law Project, which filed a suit on behalf of the teen.  The organization argued that the ADA includes HIV within its scope.   The school disagreed saying:

“We looked at the law and our unique program and made the best decision we could. Our heart goes out to this young man.”

But as the new school year approaches, the school did an about-face based on a review of the case by the justice department.  In a statement, the school’s president defended the original decision but conceded:

“The U.S. Department of Justice recently advised us that it disagrees with how we evaluated the risks and applied the law. We have decided to accept this guidance.”  

As such, the boy has been offered admission as well as an apology from the school. According to his lawyer, he is considering the offer. In meantime, however, she points out that this does not mean the lawsuit is over:

“We couldn’t be happier that they’re doing the right thing, but if you turn a blind eye to a law, you’re responsible for the harm caused while you were turning that blind eye.”

Just Do It—Even the Night before a Big Sporting Event

The Olympics may be over but my own favorite sporting event to watch—The U.S. Open Tennis Tournament—is just starting.  I have good news for Roger Federer, Kim Clijsters, the Williams sisters, and anyone else who might be worried that having sex before they hit the court will negatively impact their performance.  Apparently Mohammad Ali went without sex for six weeks before a big fight and who can forget Tim Robbins’s character in Bull Durham who wore women’s undergarments, breathed through his eyelids, and refused to have sex with Susan Sarandon while he was on a winning streak.  A review of scientific studies published in a recent issue of the Clinical Journal of Sport Medicine suggests they might have abstained for no reason.  The analysis found that sex the night before competition has no effect on physiological test results.

One study tested athletes’ strength and endurance under different circumstances and found that neither was adversely affected by sex the previous night. A second study found that sex made no difference on grip strength, balance, lateral movement, reaction time, aerobic power, and VO2 max (a measure oxygen efficiency).

Those who believe otherwise sometimes argue that sexual frustration makes people more aggressive and that ejaculation reduces testosterone (a hormone related to athletic performance). Neither of these theories has been scientifically proven. 

So, in the words of one of the top names in sports, go ahead, “Just Do It.”

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Follow Martha Kempner on twitter: @MarthaKempner