While interest in the factors which contribute to teenage pregnancy in schools and communities in general has proliferated recently, the irony is that very little of the debate on this topic is informed by what boys discuss in their free time about being a man, which influences them to engage in risky sexual activities and ergo teenage pregnancy. The specific problem of teenage pregnancy is that numerous communities, especially those in rural areas, see early pregnancy as a symbol of fertility.
Flood (2002) insisted that boys and young men’s lives are shaped by powerful social and sexual relations that limit their ability to create healthy relationships and to nurture their own and their sexual companions’ sexual and reproductive health. He explained that through boys’ participation in culturally celebrated sorts of masculinity, they will prove themselves as men, in effect getting ‘manhood points’ for their efforts of impregnating a woman (Flood, 2002). Boys can gain status among male peers by demonstrating masculine traits and pursuits like heterosexual sexual achievement and recognition at the expense of using condoms. Negative masculine discourses are entwined with the risk of engaging in risky sexual activities, and create vulnerabilities for teenage boys and young men, which result in teenage pregnancy.
Pleck, Sonenstern and Ku (1994) argued that gender ideologies, or the socially constructed beliefs regarding how men and women should act, are consistently seen within the social messages aimed towards adolescents. Connell (2005) acknowledged that men are, indeed, expected to be rational creatures, and that any revelation of weakness risks them being seen as not ‘real’ men. As an example, socially constructed beliefs about masculinity often encourage young men to value sexual virility and promiscuity, albeit they themselves like better to be monogamous or abstain from sexual intercourse. Many studies which looked at teenage pregnancy target girls more than boys or men, ignoring the fact that men and boys being the partners of these girls should be included. Generally, boys and men are overlooked from the discourses of teenage pregnancy, which brings the connotation that only girls are the duty-bearers of this problem and continue to reproduce sexual discourses of restriction and separations. My argument is based on the fact that boys being given masculine prowess, learn, observe or imitate this behaviour, attitudes and beliefs in their society, and use it as a tool to engage in risky sexual activities.
In fact, I believe that cultural factors such as masculine dominant discourses, expectations and often unwritten social expectations that regulate individual behaviour influence teenage boys’ discourses and their sexual identities. I further argue that although many studies pointed out low socioeconomic conditions and limited education to have a serious bearing on teenage pregnancy, the emphasis is more on girls or young women, who are vulnerable due to their social and economic status. It is, therefore, vital to point out that boys or young men on the other hand from diverse social and economic backgrounds might engage in masculine conversations, despite their status which influences them to engage in risky sexual activities. Additionally, I maintain that unless minimised, discussions about masculinity among boys is likely to lead to sexual activity, which will inevitably contribute to teenage pregnancy.
This makes it difficult for boys to maintain non-sexual heterosexual friendships. Almost whenever possible, boys discuss sex or girls when they are together, and those who listen to these conversations without being pressurised might experiment risky sexual activities. Although boys do not actually get pregnant, it does not make sense to exclude them from teenage pregnancy discourses when they have sex earlier, more frequently, and with more partners than females of comparable ages.
* Faustinus Shikukutu is a PhD graduate from the University of KwaZulu-Natal and a resident from the Kavango East region.