Birth Control for Middle School

by Lauren Anderson

The heated debate about safe sex versus abstinence in health education classrooms just got hotter. Recently, a school board in Portland, Maine voted to allow contraceptives to be handed out in school. Not even a high school – a middle school. And the parents of the students requesting birth control don’t necessarily need to know about who receives the contraceptives.

This is radically different from many school districts that support a policy of teaching abstinence only. But, maybe it is not so radically different from the general opinion of the United States. A recent poll, conducted by the Associated Press, found that 67 percent of parents are okay with the idea of contraceptives being distributed to their kids at school. In the poll, 62 percent of parents said they believe the availability of birth control will decrease the number of teen pregnancies.

Parents are more divided on the fallout of providing birth control to preteens and teens. While 49 percent of parents do not believe making birth control available for teenagers would encourage teens to have sex earlier, 46 percent believe that it would. This creates an interesting and problematic question: which is worse, having safe sex earlier or unsafe sex later?

While parents may not have the answer to this question, they don’t want what little control they have over their children’s sex lives to be taken from them. In the poll, 37 percent of parents only support the distribution of contraceptives to students with parental consent. It seems like a nice idea to keep it in the family, but what about the kids whose parents say no? From the days of Romeo and Juliet, teenagers have been having sex. Let’s face it – they’re not going to stop just because their parents tell them. If they can’t get contraceptives from school, they will most likely go ahead and have sex without them, which is clearly not the better alternative.

The only logical idea would be to teach teens how to have sex safely. If the distribution of contraceptives gives the education about using them more weight, teens having sex earlier might be a small price to pay. Although the emotional repercussions of sex at too early an age pose a problem, teen pregnancies, which pose a problem much greater than the emotional questions, would likely go down. (And the trend right now is a decline in teen pregnancies nationwide.)

In a country where there are about 425,000 babies born to teenage mothers each year, we should be doing everything we can to further reduce that number.* If it is proven that giving contraceptives to young teens decreases the number of teen pregnancies, then that is what we need to do, with or without the consent of parents.

The U.S. needs to break away from the idea that we need to protect the virgin ears of our children. If they are between the ages of 15 and 19, there is a 50 percent chance they have already had sex. It is too late to hear someone telling them not to have sex. They need to know how to do it safely and that their schools are going to help them. More schools should look to King Middle School in Portland, Maine for the progressive model they are setting.

*Statistics from 2005 available through the Centers for Disease Control.

(For another take on this topic, please see: "Abstinence by Any Name is Still Silly.")

(Photo by cherrycher of Toronto, Ontario, Canada via stock.xchng.)

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Anonymous said...

As an American who has lived in Europe for 9 years I have a strong opinion on this subject based on personal experience.

First let me preface this by saying, there are many things about America that are great and better than anywhere in the world. In debate with Americans, in any case, I always seem to be the one to point out those things that are wrong about America and never the great things. I point the great things about America out to Europeans, that way everyone hates me.

This issue of the teaching in school of birth control to kids is simply a non issue in Europe. Sex is viewed as a bodily function and not viewed within any kind of political framework. It is antidotal evidence, but I think its significant because of the person. I know a gent who is a member of the Italian National Alliance party which, notwithstanding the LegaNords is about as hard right as you can find in Italy. one day we ended up talking about kids and birth control and he gave me the "sex is a bodily function line" and he talked about how kids need to be made aware. (ask him about immigration and you will hear lines very similar to what the right in the USA believe but on sex education for kids, this guy made Hillary Clinton sound conservative.

Kids are taught openly about sex here and teen birth rates are very very low. I simply don't see what is wrong with that, it's common sense.

Rick Rockwell said...

After that, I'm going to sound very American.

However, I believe in sex education and I believe it should start at a fairly young age, especially with news that even 11-year-olds are getting pregnant. So it should start (from both school and parents) in grade school.

My beliefs are fairly progressive on this score, but I do think I draw the line at contraception without parental notice for pre-teens. These are basically children. Their parents need to be included in the discussion.

So although I agree with most of the sentiments here, I don't think parents should be excluded from knowing whether their child is getting contraception at an age younger than 13.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, i gotta agree with you on that. Parents of kids that young should be involved even if I worry that a lot of parents out there are feeding the kids with unhealthy attitudes of guilt etc.. about sex.

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