Distributing Condoms and Hope: The Racialized Politics of Youth Sexual Health

Coming in December 2020! Pre-order or recommend to your library here!

University of California Press series Reproductive Justice: A New Vision for the 21st Century.

Sneak peek:
At a memorable meeting of the “Teens Count” initiative—an effort to reduce pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections among youth in a low-income, Puerto Rican community—project leaders announced that the percentage of area youth using provider-controlled, long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) had increased 2.5 times in the past two years. Upon hearing this news, attendees from health and human service organizations rose from their seats and cheered using the provided noisemakers and kazoos. Viewed from a traditional public health standpoint, this news was a great success in efforts to reduce the teen birth rate. Conversely, viewed through the lens of a reproductive justice framework, we might critique how a group of majority white, middle-aged and class-privileged service providers literally applauded a practice that policymakers have used to limit marginalized people’s childbearing based on the perceived danger of their sexuality and reproduction.

Distributing Condoms and Hope: Race and Reproduction in Youth Sexual Health Promotion provides a feminist ethnographic account of moments such as this one. It demonstrates how discourses of race, reproduction, and science play out in the youth sexual health promotion efforts of a racially and economically stratified small city in the northeastern United States that I call “Millerston.” The book documents how professional stakeholders justify health promotion efforts by mobilizing the specter of high teen birth rates among Latinas. At the same time, they privatize responsibility for race, class, and gender inequalities by distributing condoms and promoting “hope.”

In recent years, stigmatizing and shaming teen pregnancy prevention campaigns have ignited conversations among scholars, service providers, and the public surrounding the politics of youth sexual health. Meanwhile, reproductive justice activists have worked to amplify the voices of pregnant and parenting youth. Distributing Condoms and Hope brings together the perspectives of these disparate groups. In contrast to texts that focus on the problem construction of teen pregnancy or the personal stories of teen mothers, the book takes a vantage point from within the field of community-based public health to demonstrate how youth sexual health promotion is a site for the reproduction of inequality and the racialization of bodies and populations. The book draws on three years of fieldwork, including interviews with pregnant and parenting young women and professional stakeholders; participant observation at health promotion events, coalition meetings, and provider trainings; participant observation at a community-based educational program for pregnant and parenting young women; and archival research on the history of race and health politics in the city.