Ever since it aired Tuesday night I’ve been trying to think of a good word to describe the 16 and Pregnant: Life After Labor reunion special. The best I’ve come up with is HORRIFYING. As usual it was hosted by (barf) Dr. Drew. But besides looking more Day-Glo than in previous seasons, he was also much more ruthless as he pointedly interrogated the teen moms between dramatic montages of highlights from the season. Each episode was recapped with swift interviews with each of the girls and their families, and one by one Dr. Drew jabbed them with aggressive therapist questions until they each broke down into tears onstage. It was horrible and I couldn’t finish it. The season 3 reunion episode succeeded in both turning me off the show forever and making me eternally grateful that I did not have a child when I was sixteen (that’s when I discovered and fell in love with Taco Bell Chalupa Supremes, of all things).
The safer sex message that was only occasionally explicit throughout the season was drilled into viewers’ heads as Dr. Drew plugged MTV’s sex-ed website every few minutes for almost an hour and a half. Before ending each segment, Dr. Drew made sure to have the girls verbally emphasize birth control methods, but by then I was already convinced. If 16 and Pregnant isn’t MTV’s attempt to educate its sex-saturated viewers about safer sex it certainly is their way to terrify them into it. But in the reunion show and throughout the season, it’s the teen moms who are the sex-ed mouthpieces while the teen dads are mostly silent or out of the picture altogether.
It’s no secret that 16 and Pregnant is marketed to women. Each episode is narrated by the teen mom, who also provides the testimonials and has the camera on her at all times. The commercials shown during the program are obviously geared toward teen girls, and the chat on MTV.com’s 16 and Pregnant page is filled with girls, mostly teen mothers themselves. As viewers we never see teen parenthood from the father’s point of view and the possible value from including their experiences is completely lost. Remember teen dad Brian from the first episode of this season? Not only is he still with his girlfriend Jordan and her baby, but he’s been dealing with their child’s diagnosis with acid reflux disease and Jordan’s strained relationship with her twin sister. Doesn’t he have something valuable to add to the show? Or what about Tyler from all the way back in Season 1? I was hoping to hear his perspective on the long, heart-wrenching adoption process that he and his girlfriend Catelynn went through, but we only got his voice mixed with the chorus of others who were not the teen mom. Aren’t these teen dads the same who tune in for Jersey Shore, or Rob Dyrdek’s this and that, or whatever else is on MTV now? Shouldn’t they be exposed to a sex-ed marketing campaign as well?
And what about those boys who do watch 16 and Pregnant? So far all the show has to say to them is “Hey, if you get your girlfriend pregnant you can stick around, or not. Either way she’ll deal with it on her own.” As it is now, MTV’s sex-ed message operates under the guise that making a baby has little to nothing to do with men, so they should just keep watching ghosts of Real Worlds past compete for cars and money. But as 16 and Pregnant proves, this limited education approach is not effective. Episode after episode each teen dad was clueless about what to expect when having a child. Sex education is for everyone, and though I don’t think teenagers should be turning to MTV for their main source of sex education, the network still has significant influence when it comes to teen popular culture. Now, I don’t pretend to know how MTV could achieve this campaign (Dad at 15? The Mysterious Adventures of the Absentee Father?). But if this horrible network got me to watch 16 and Pregnant (and The Osbournes, let’s not forget that) then they can certainly find a way to get teen boys to think about condoms. The possibilities are endless, but for now MTV leaves spreading the word up to girls.