Web Site Takes 'Edgy' Campaign Against Teen Pregnancy

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Poster advertisements featuring teenagers with words such as 'dirty', 'reject' and 'cheap' written in big red letters across their pictures are part of the latest effort by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy to promote its "Sex Has Consequences" web site. On Monday, the National Campaign unveiled six such ads, all depicting teens who have suffered through an unwanted pregnancy.

Marisa Nightingale, Director of Media Programming at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said the ads are supposed to give teens a real life look at the consequences of pre-marital sex and having children out of wedlock. One of the ads shows a teen-aged girl staring expressionless and reads, "Now that I'm home with a baby, NOBODY calls me anymore," with the word "NOBODY" emblazoned across the girl's chest.

"We are trying to portray teen perspective from a teen perspective," said Nightingale. "It is a teen speaking these words to another teen and giving them the straight scoop about what it really feels like after getting pregnant."

Not everyone agrees with the National Campaign's effort. Heather Cirmo, spokeswoman for the Family Research Council, finds one of the six ads especially confrontational. With 'CHEAP' written across her chest in a huge font, one poster of a teen-aged girl reads, "Condoms are cheap. If we'd used one, I wouldn't have to tell my parents I'm pregnant."

Cirmo said nowhere on the six ads is abstinence promoted and the only suggestions the National Campaign offers is to use condoms.

"It's interesting that the only recommended means of preventing pregnancy is a condom while [the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy] is choosing to bury other sections on their web site that promote abstinence," Cirmo said. "Instead of displaying words like 'Abstinence' or 'Marriage', and encouraging teens and young adults to adopt healthy lifestyles, they've chosen to stoop to the low level of labeling teens with degrading words such as 'Reject'."

Cirmo said the ads also portray pregnancy and having a baby as something evil.

"The distastefulness of the whole ad campaign, that they would stoop to such levels to tell teens about such a serious subject and to demonize pregnancy is an error," she said.

Nightingale said that while the National Campaign holds that abstinence is the best way to avoid unwanted pregnancy, it is not the only way.

"We at the campaign honestly believe that abstinence is the only fool-proof way not to get pregnant and to catch sexually transmitted diseases," she said. "However, another way not to get pregnant is to use contraception every single time. It is not as effective as abstinence, however it is a way of not getting pregnant, and here at our campaign, our sole focus is preventing teenage pregnancy."

Nightingale defends the tone of the new advertisements.

"These ads try to get at the emotional undertones. They go right for the heart, right for the emotions," she said. "We were trying to get kids to stop and really think about this and sometimes you have to be a little edgy."

One of the ads Nightingale described as "edgy" has the word 'Prick' written across a teen-aged boy's photo. "All it took was one PRICK to get my girlfriend pregnant. At least that's what her friends say," is written along the side of the poster. Nightingale said the fact that 'Prick' is a taboo word makes the ad more effective.

"That has been one of the most popular ads among teens, and that is probably why," she said. "Our goal here is getting teens to talk about the consequences of sex and many teens don't personalize it. If they don't feel it like 'could this really happen to me,' it doesn't do much. We need the kind of emotional kick these ads offer."

Cirmo pointed to the difference between ad campaigns to stop teens from smoking and drinking and the National Campaign's ad to be aware of the consequences of sex. She called on the organization to treat sex in the same way as alcohol and tobacco by promoting abstinence.

"We communicate a message of abstinence in regard to tobacco and alcohol, and we say 'don't do it,' whereas we say with sex, 'don't do it, but if you do, here is a condom'," Cirmo said. "Why not instead promote healthy lifestyles and say don't do it, and here's why: Here you can save sex for marriage and guess what? Sex inside of marriage is better than outside of marriage. In fact, those couples who report they waited for marriage to have sex report the highest levels of sexual satisfaction."