In the era of social media, teenagers are more connected to their friends than ever, but in this modern era of communication birth control remains a taboo topic that many find difficult to discuss.
For Oak Park and River Forest High School Junior Nellie Kamenitsa-Hale, 16, misinformation about the topic is widespread amongst her peers. The negative stigma of discussing birth control leads to bad outcomes for a lot of kids, she said in a recent telephone interview.
That’s why Kamenitsa-Hale and her colleagues who serve on Planned Parenthood Illinois’ Youth Advisory Board are working directly with kids their own age to educate them about the topic.
Kamenitsa-Hale joined the Youth Advisory Board, which has about 10 members from the Chicago area, about a year ago and began working with other teenagers to develop youth-led strategies for reaching out to their classmates about birth control and sexual health.
“It’s a really important thing for us to show people that they’re not alone in their experience,” she told Wednesday Journal. “You can be different from other people, but you’re not alone.”
The Youth Advisory Board most recently launched the “My Body, My Story” initiative, aimed at 13 to 19 year olds, that encourages young people to share their stories and get accurate information about various birth control methods.
Kamenitsa-Hale said her group is holding workshops at community organizations and schools to spread the word. In that process, she’s heard a lot of falsehoods about sexual health.
Among the most common: birth control pills make you fat. IUDs (intrauterine devices) are painful to use and can cause infertility.
“For a lot of teenage girls it has to do with weight gain, which is not completely true,” she said.
Teenagers often get bad information from the internet and television and then feel uncomfortable asking their peers questions, she said.
She noted that her group is not encouraging young people to have sex but wants them to be prepared if they do.
The Youth Advisory Board also has created a collection of seven cartoon characters known as “The Birth Control Squad,” each representing a different form of contraception.
“They all have little eyes and they’re adorable,” she said. “It’s a way for us to make our campaign really approachable and easy to use and easy to see.”
Lightening the topic shows teenagers “it’s not scary to talk about this stuff,” Kamenitsa-Hale said.
The Youth Advisory Board also is connecting with peers through social media campaigns, according to Paula Thornton Greear, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Illinois.
“I think it’s about not just talking to or at young people; it’s really involving them,” Thornton Greear said. “It’s not simply sharing the information but empowering them to digest it …”
More information about the “My Body, My Story” campaign is available online.