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A Teen Mom Talks About What's Missing From Sex Education

Courtney Collins
Shanterrica Piper got her GED thanks to a program at Alley's House, a Dallas nonprofit.

Stuart Spitzer, a Republican from Kaufman, kicked up a controversy about sex education during a recent marathon budget debate in the Texas House. He succeeded in moving$3 million to abstinence education from programsaimed at preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

A 19-year-old woman who’s three years into motherhood explains how this plays out in real life.

Shanterrica Piper was a freshman at Duncanville High School when she got pregnant. By age 15, she had a baby girl.

She got the basics from sex ed in eighth grade. Would more abstinence education have made a difference? What about easier access to birth control?

Shanterrica says all of that would have helped -- some. What was missing was something very different.

In one family, 'a cycle' of teen pregnancies

“Classes on self-esteem and self-love and stuff like that," Shanterrica said. "At the end of the day, if you taught children or teenagers, ‘if I love myself, then I’d think differently,’ that would be way more successful."

Teen pregnancy is a fact of life for her family. Her mom had her at 16. Her grandma had her mom at 15. Her sister was 15 when she had a baby -- three weeks after Shanterrica gave birth.

“My family calls it as a cycle,” Shanterrica says. “We know that it is happening but instead of us going about it the right way and talking like ‘well, I did it so I want you to do better,’ we kind of ignore it until it is too late.”

Shanterrica says her mom worried getting her contraception would have been giving her permission to become sexually active. So they didn’t really talk about it.

Before she got pregnant, she had no idea so many different types of birth control existed. She says learning all that in school would have helped her bring it up at home.

'There wasn't a thought process. That's the problem.'

The father of her child is 10 years older than she is, a friend from the neighborhood. She says they only had sex once.

“Her father is almost a stranger,” Shanterrica says. “We had finished talking and stopped talking way before I even knew that I was pregnant.”

They didn’t use a condom. She knew better.

“There wasn’t a thought process. That’s the problem. When I think about what happened, I could have got something worse,” she admits.

Like HIV or another sexually transmitted disease. Even at 14, she knew that. But she was angry and insecure. She didn’t feel valuable. She hadn’t seen her dad since she was 5.

“You go around looking for someone to fill the void of him not being around,” she says. “And that happened a lot.”

Shanterrica is 19 now. She got her GED thanks to a program at Alley's House, a Dallas nonprofit. She works at Macy’s and is taking classes at El Centro College. She's studying to be a nurse.

Credit Shanterrica Piper
Arhyanna at the Dallas Arboretum.

'I didn't love myself enough'

And she’s a mom to 3-year-old Arhyanna. Shanterrica wants her daughter to have a different life.

Even now she encourages Arhyanna to speak up when her feelings are hurt. She wants to break her family’s cycle of teen pregnancy.

Shanterrica says she wouldn’t change anything about how her life turned out. But she wishes she could go back in time and change what her 14-year-old self saw when she looked in the mirror.

“I didn’t love myself enough to know that me doing this could possibly change the whole way my life would be,” Shanterrica says.

And she believes not much else matters if schools can’t teach that.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.