I was an avid reader growing up. On one visit to the dentist’s office I must have left my book at home, or maybe I neglected it in favor of one of the teen magazines I didn’t normally have around. I was 11 or 12, and visits to the dentist meant significant downtime, since five people in my family needed a check-up.
I forget exactly what articles I read that day, but I remember thinking my parents would not be happy if they knew what I was looking at a few seats over from them. After my check-up, I went back to the waiting room while another family member went in. I found my ever-vigilant father had flipped through the magazine. Never one to shy away from a life talk, he told me that the people writing for this magazine were encouraging girls, like myself, to have sex at a young age, and (I paraphrase) engage in adult behaviors that would not make their lives easier in the long-run.
His key phrase that stood out was, “The people writing this do not care about you.” How could I argue with that? “No, Dad, the writers of Teen Vogue care deeply about my personal well-being?” or “Nah, I really think that the editors at Seventeen have more incentive to be honest with me than you, Pops.” I suppose a more enlightened pre-teen would have said, “You, the patriarchy, are stigmatizing and slut-shaming empowered women, and the brave people at Hearst and Conde Nast are here to protect young girls from oppressive fathers like you!”
Of course, I didn’t say any of that, and of course my dad was right. No one cares more about me than he and my mom, and even at 12 years old I knew that putting my faith in some magazine advice column over him would be a bad call.
Here’s What Seventeen Is Saying When You Aren’t Looking
But let’s imagine you aren’t having that discussion with your daughter. What advice can she expect to find in teen magazines? You don’t have to look far to see Seventeen telling your daughter how to “Save Planned Parenthood” (Spoiler: they don’t care about her, either). They’re also telling her “Everything You Need to Know about Plan B and Other Emergency Contraceptives- In case the condom broke (or- oops- you forgot to use one at all.)” The original title, “In case you didn’t sterilize yourself before sex with a man who doesn’t care about you or your future, you still have 72 hours!” was exnayed by the marketing team.
The article “5 Girls Explain Why They Chose to Have an Abortion” shows a trend the article glosses over. Each of the women either do not mention the man they had sex with, or they mention him in disparaging terms. One woman states, “my boyfriend was not very nice about the unplanned incident. He threatened to out me on Facebook and left $200 in my mailbox and disappeared.”
Another says, “If I’m telling the truth I had been abusing alcohol as a way to escape my unhappiness in my current relationship as well as cheating. I was not in a good place in my life to have a child…” A third woman had this oh-so-relatable college experience: “I had been seeing someone named C for a few months. We were pretty casual, and we had some disagreements about our status at several points. We ended up breaking things off because I wanted to move to more of a boyfriend/girlfriend status and he didn’t feel comfortable using that wording.” When she later told him she had an abortion, “He laughed and told me it was no big deal, and that I should stop feeling badly about it.”
I’m not even going to address abortion here. Let’s focus on these women before they were pregnant. Why were they dating these men? Why is Seventeen, the typical age to be a junior in high school, running an article about how to deal with an abortion after having sex with a garbage person? Where is the article about not dating men who drive you to alcoholism, refuse to commit, and laugh in your face when you tell them you had an abortion over Christmas break while they were presumably knockin’ back High Lifes with the boys?
Seventeen isn’t running that article because they do not care about your daughter. But you do, right? That’s why you’ve told her early and often that she deserves a man who will commit to her, who cares about her future, and who won’t leave her high and dry when she says the word “pregnant.”
Horrible, Lowest Common Denominator Life Advice
Over at Teen Vogue, they’re mostly sticking to fashion, as well as giving out solid advice that, “If you can’t tell whether your prospective partner is too drunk to consent, there’s only one option. ‘If you’re concerned…it’s always better to err on the side of delaying any sexual activity.’” While this is a good baseline for how to not be a rapist, the people who care about young men and women (cough parents cough) should be telling them not to have sex while drunk at all. Like, don’t even be in that situation where you are (a) drunk and (b) going to persuade or be persuaded to have sex.
The caring people at Teen Vogue are also letting your daughter know that everyone, ever, is having sex, and no one could possibly not have sex, so if she isn’t—well, why even go there, because she must be, so why entertain the absurd? The first sentence of “Teens Report Using Pull Out Method as Birth Control” states “No matter how many abstinence-only classes they sit through, it’s a known fact that young people are going to have sex.”
Actually, the latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control show that not even half of young people have had intercourse by the time they are 19, so no, it is not a “known fact that young people are going to have sex.” And you can tell your daughter that! Really!
If you don’t tell her that it’s not only good, but maybe even popular, to focus on non-sex-related things during adolescence, you can’t count on anyone else to let her know. My dad cared enough to pick up the magazine I was reading at the dentist’s and address the situation right then and there. Sure, I would have rather run back into the check-up room and had a root-canal than hear my dad say the word “sex,” but he knew the importance of letting me know who really cares.