Birds, Bees, Dinasaurs & Me

Wired has an interesting article that popped up in Google’s basic news feed today.  The lead-off into the story links adolescent pregnancy to the dinasaurs.  It’s kind of a goofy lead-in to a more basic story about dinasaur skeletons being discovered that appear to have been pregnant at a stage in their own life-cycle roughly equivalent to what we would call adolescence or teen-age years.

Now, it’s a goofy lead-in.  And I should leave it at that.  But I was thinking about what sort of implications and assumptions lay behind the lead-in – whether conscious or unconscious to the copy editor & author.

The first thing that struck me is that this type of lead in seems to imply a relationship between humans of today and dinasaurs – and by extension, all other animal species past & present.  Humans are not a unique species, but simply one amongst many.  We don’t differ significantly from any other species – at least in an evolutionary sense.  That’s what this type of tie-in brings up in my mind.  Another argument that man is not really any different from apes or whales or dinasaurs.  We all developed the same way – just along different evolutionary branches. 

By implication then, our problems and issues are no different in some respects from those of any other member of the animal kingdom.  We struggle with the issue of teen pregnancy.  Lo and behold, the dinasaurs had teen pregnancy as well!  One big, evolutionary, dysfunctional family.  Our issues are not so different from any other species.

Or are they?

Everybody knows that human beings are capable of reproducing at an amazingly young age.  In case you’re not aware, a fairly reliable record exists for a five and a half year old girl giving birth (by Cesarean section) in Peru back in 1939.  In more recent news, an 12-year old is the youngest Britain on record to give birth, after getting pregnant at age 11.  So it’s clear that the human body is capable of conceiving and bearing a child at a remarkably young age. 

Historically, girls were married at *much* younger ages than is considered morally and socially acceptable today.  Marriage for girls as young as 12-14 years old was not uncommon for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Of course, boys and girls were also brought up more like ‘little adults’ than children.  Our current habit of treating people as children until at least age 18, delaying the acceptance of responsibility for actions and decisions to an arbitrary birthdate, is somewhat of a new concept.  It’s not surprising that we don’t tolerate the idea of young teen marriage now, since in many cases, people in their 20’s and 30’s are just beginning to function like adults – living on their own, holding down steady jobs, etc. 

Our squeamishness about children giving birth to children has very little to do with their physical capacity to do so, and a great deal more to do with their emotional and psychological capacity to deal with the repercussions.  Just because you are physically capable of bearing children (and perhaps just as important, engaging in the sexual activity that leads to pregnancy and birth), doesn’t mean that you should be doing so.  In our society, children, pre-teens, and early teens are not equipped with the skills to deal with sexual activity and potential repercussions.  I would argue that in our society, it isn’t possible to equip them for this, even if we thought it were a good idea.  Instead, our children are bombarded with images and advocacy about the coolness and sensuality and ‘fun’ of sexual activity, while being systematically shielded from the physical and psychological and spiritual effects of these things outside a loving, committed, and permanent relationship with one other person.  To borrow a metaphor from C.S. Lewis, it would be like teaching kids to enjoy the taste and texture of food, but then telling them they could just spit it out rather than swallow it.  Never mind the physical harm to their bodies from malnutrition – the important thing is that they ‘enjoy’ the taste of the food.

So, back to the cheesy article lead-in.  Teen pregnancy is not a surprise, nor an anomaly – either physiologically or otherwise.  Teens and pre-adolescents are capable of having sex and having children (and catching STDs, or developing other complications from sexual activity, as well).  It’s not surprising that they’re capable of this.  It’s just surprising that our society would choose to encourage sexual activity at a young age.  Oh, of course we officially poo-poo and discourage sexual activity among pre-teens.  But then we market Britney Spears to them bopping around in see-through clothes.  We market Bratz dolls and Barbie dolls and any number of products and images that glorify the sexuality of bodies and psyches older and more mature than their own.  Abercrombie & Fitch can market thongs to 7-year olds, and yet we’re amazed as a culture that our children are having sex so young, and many of them are getting pregnant because of it.

Humans are not simply one among many animal species.  We’re unique in so many ways – not the least is our insistence on the idea that physical capacity is separate and different from emotional or psychological capacity.  Just because someone is physically ready for something, doesn’t mean that they should begin doing that specific thing. 

So the idea – implicit or explicit – that we’re somehow similar to dinasaurs is just goofy.  Because the other thing that this kind of tie-in seems to imply is that the dinasaurs would have struggled with this issue in some way similar to us.  The social mores on this issue are so strong, that linking how we deal with it to how another species deals or dealt with it carries a lot of that baggage. 

But I’m fairly certain that the dinasaurs – like just about any other animal species you care to name – didn’t struggle with teen pregnancy.  The fact that an animal was capable of reproduction meant that reproduction was the natural thing to start doing.  So in reality, the idea of teen pregnancy is definitely not new – but our attitudes towards it could be described as somewhat new. 

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