Jane: A Murder by Maggie Nelson explores the murder of Nelson’s aunt Jane, connecting the experiences of Nelson and Jane, and shedding light on a number of topics, such as sexual violence against women. Building off of this idea, in my series of documentary poems, it was my objective to compare the experience of the grandparents to my own experience, specifically in regards to teen pregnancy and sex education. I wanted to tell these stories in tandem in order to compare our experiences and show that the problem of inadequate sex education in the United States (focusing specifically on the state of Texas) is not only a problem of the past, but is rather an ongoing one, which continues to negatively affect people’s lives.
The issue of sex education is a pressing one. “Based on annual teen pregnancy rates [in 2011], approximately one-third of all young women in the United States become pregnant before the age of 20” (Duffy, Prince, & Johnson). These rates “are among the highest of all industrialized countries” (Jaramillo, Buhi, Elder, & Corliss). In addition, having a child as a teen negatively impacts one’s educational and economic prospects (Duffy, Prince, & Johnson). Women who have children as teens are less likely to complete high school or college, and often find themselves in a cycle of poverty from which many teen pregnancies originate (Sayegh, Castrucci, & Lewis). The children of teen pregnancies are at an increased risk of low birth weight, abuse, neglect, developmental delays, and chronic conditions (Duffy, Prince, & Johnson). The lack of sex education also influences the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). As of 2015, the total amount of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and primary and secondary syphilis infections were at an all time high (Jaramillo, Buhi, Elder, & Corliss). By not giving teens the necessary information about birth control and sexual diseases, these problems simply compound upon each other. These problems are especially prevalent in my home state, Texas, which serves as the backdrop for my series of poems. Texas rates 5th among total teen pregnancies, and 2nd among teen births (Sayegh, Castrucci, & Lewis). During the 2015-2016 school year, “Nearly 60 percent of Texas public school districts used an abstinence-only sexual education curriculum, and a quarter taught no sex education at all” (Pollock). It addition to a lack of education, republican lawmakers in Texas have greatly restricted access to abortion (Pollock). These factors combined serve to compound the instances of teen pregnancy, as well as propagate a system in which people can more easily find themselves in a cycle of poverty, having a child at a young age and being unable to make ends meet. With many education activists and lawmakers in Texas, such as Alice Linahan, backing an abstinence only approach to sex education, this problem is unlikely to end soon. Linahan states that she believes that Abstinence only is not only “100% foolproof,” but is also the “healthiest way” to teach sex education (Pollock). Linahan’s firm belief in abstinence only raises a vital question though, what forms of sex education work?
Spencer Anderson is a freshman at Boston University. Aside from a high school literary magazine, his work has never been published. He has a passion for music, film, and creative writing. He is a member of the on-campus spoken word group, Speak For Yourself Poets, as well as the campus radio station WTBU. In his free time, you can find Spencer listening to music or reading the latest issue of one of his favorite comic books.