Contraception: The Horse Before The Cart
In recent weeks, the new or suggested availabilities of birth control for teenagers have made headlines. This new ease for teens to obtain contraceptives can now be seen in New York City, where 13 public high schools now offer emergency contraception, also known as Plan-B or the “morning-after pill,” at no cost to students.
Also, the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ACOG) released a paper with guidelines on whether or not the intrauterine device, or IUD, should be available to teenage girls. Both of these issues have been highly controversial, inciting passionate debate from both opponents and supporters.
Many who disapprove of the availability of these contraceptive methods argue that this accessibility provides teens with a license to engage in unrestrained, indiscriminate sex. ACOG argues that the IUD’s long-term quality (after insertion, it can stay in place for up to ten years, although it can be removed and have its contraceptive effects removed at any time) makes it far more effective for teens than methods like the birth control pill or the condom.
My position within this debate is that these (and frankly all) methods of birth control should be available to teen girls. The truth is that some individuals become sexually active during their teen years. Some do not.
However, it is very important that there are contraceptive methods available to those who choose to have sex. Even opponents to these measures would have a hard time disagreeing with the fact that very few (if any) girls aged between 14 and 17 are emotionally, financially and mentally prepared for the life-changing challenge of parenthood.
The teens who decide to have sex will probably have it whether these methods are available to them or not. Why not ensure they have options regarding their health and future?
While the IUD may not be the right personal choice for every teen girl, the availability of it is definitely beneficial. For teens who seek to control their reproductive futures for the long-term, it is likely the best option. Condoms have been known to fail on occasion. And for those who have trouble remembering things, taking a daily pill may not be the most effective approach.
The availability of emergency contraception in schools is also important. In allowing teens to obtain it at a school nurse’s office, as opposed to a public pharmacy, it potentially allows for more privacy. Some girls may feel intimidated about walking up to a pharmacy counter and asking for the morning-after pill.
They may fear being judged by anyone who may be in the vicinity, such as others waiting for their prescriptions. For other teens, it may be difficult to get to a pharmacy without a parent knowing what they are doing, and in many states minors cannot make decisions regarding their health without parental consent and/or notification. I believe issues regarding reproduction are very personal and private.
In my opinion, teens engaging in sex should be granted the agency to decide how to control their reproductive health, all with the guidance and expertise of a physician, of course. Some would argue that issues like birth control are “adult” matters and that teens are not necessarily mature enough to decide for themselves.
But I argue that it is probably better to be faced with this decision, than to be faced with the very “adult” dilemma of an unplanned pregnancy while underage, and all the potential consequences and difficult decisions a situation like that entails. It is also important to note that the availability of these methods should not come without education.
Teens should be well-informed by health professionals administering these methods of the possible side effects, consequences and average failure rates. It is also extremely important to make it clear to teens that these methods do not protect against sexually transmitted infections.
Another argument that I would like to touch on is that made by opponents who believe that easing the access of teens to certain birth control methods will encourage sexual promiscuity.
A similar argument was made in 2006 and subsequent years following the FDA approval and mainstream acceptance of Gardasil, a series of three injections which prevent certain strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV) in women.
The series is typically administered during childhood or adolescence, as the FDA recommends that it should come before a patient becomes sexually active. Opponents to the vaccine argued that it encouraged the girls who received it to engage in sexual promiscuity.
Comedian and political commentator, Bill Maher countered this claim by making a great analogy in an opinion editorial for Salon.com. In the piece, Maher argued that this statement was “like saying if you give a kid a tetanus shot she’ll want to jab rusty nails in her feet.”
I am in full agreement with this stance. The availability of the IUD and morning-after pill does not promote or encourage sexual promiscuity. It simply prevents adolescent pregnancy. No one argues that the drugstore availability of condoms promotes sexual promiscuity in teen boys.
Let’s face it — some teens will have sex whether contraceptives are available to them or not. It is important to make sure that teens who have sex have multiple methods available to them that will allow them to take responsibility regarding their reproductive health.
Jeanette Reveles is a fourth-year film and media studies and women’s studies major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.