In the UK, youthful pregnancy and parenthood is considered an important social and healthproblem and is the focus of current government intervention. Contemporary policy approaches depict early unplanned pregnancy as a consequence of relative deprivation and a lack of opportunity, leading to ‘low expectations’ among youth, and as the result of sexual ‘mixed messages’ or poor knowledge about contraception. This small scale, qualitative study explores how well these explanations accord with accounts of pregnancy and motherhood provided by young mothers and Teenage Pregnancy Local Co-ordinators in diverse English localities. The results suggest that structural factors may be more important in explaining early pregnancy than those relating to sexual attitudes and knowledge. The tension between the idea of early motherhood as problematic, or even pathological, and early motherhood as rational is also considered.