Written by Regan Lemley
As a junior high girl, I wasn’t too concerned about sex or pregnancy or STDs. I cared about basketball, pink nail polish, sleepovers and my annoyingly painful braces. Getting a coke after school with friends was more fun than what happened on most weekends. Riding bikes and walking downtown offered more enjoyment than being awkwardly alone with a boy. Sure, I had boyfriends, but I didn’t even really like them. They were just guys to sit with on bus rides.
So maybe it’s my upbringing, or maybe it’s my history of being a tomboy, but I can’t possibly imagine junior high girls willingly having sex. Having been one, I can say that the desire never crossed my mind. Sex was something dirty and animalistic, and I certainly would have screamed if anyone had tried to offer me any kind of contraceptive.
But the reality is that junior high and middle school girls are indeed having sex. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and Columbia University in a joint research report, about one in five kids had had sexual intercourse by age 14. Boys are more likely than girls to have sex at an early age, but two to four percent of girls have still been sexually active before the extremely young age of 12.
Knowing this information, King Middle School in Portland, Maine decided to take action and offer young girls contraceptives through the school’s health services. The girls have to have parental permission to go to the school’s clinic, but once they enter into the waiting room, the girl’s care becomes confidential. Simply put, an 11-year-old girl can legally get a prescription for birth control, in form of a pill or patch, without her parents knowing.
I like the idea of preparing middle school age kids for the reality of sex by teaching them about contraceptives, but to give out and explain condoms to junior high age kids is one thing. To give out chemical altering pills is quite another.
Condoms don’t change a girl’s or boy’s mood. Condoms don’t cause cancer after using them for eight years. Condoms don’t have to be used at approximately the same time every day in order to be effective. Condoms don’t need to be prescribed.
Birth control pills and patches are a big deal. They play with and change hormone levels to such an extreme degree and can modify moods in a number of women, especially growing teenage girls. Because birth control increases a woman’s chances of cervical cancer after eight years of use, girls who start taking birth control when they are as young as 12 or 13 will need to stop taking it in their early twenties, which is when the majority of women need to use highly effective contraceptives.
To middle school girls who are similar to the junior high version of me, the offer of contraceptives won’t make a bit of difference in their sexual lives. They will probably ask a good deal of questions, but in no way will they somehow be convinced to have sex. To girls that are having sex anyway and can’t talk to their parents about it, the offer of birth control could be a saving grace. Birth control could be the very thing that keeps their lives from being ruined.
But, for parents that truly care about the welfare of their daughters, the secret distribution of birth control creates an extremely unfair situation. Instead of parents being able to make major medical decisions for their young and carefree girls, a physician—who doesn’t even know the girls personally—gets to make the decision for them.
Before any other arguments can effectively come into play, the girls’ health at King Middle School needs to come first. I am all for women being in charge of their bodies and being in charge of reproduction rights, but the key word is “women.” A 12-year-old girl is hardly considered a woman and can hardly be expected to make major medical decisions. A doctor shouldn’t make the decision for her, so the responsibility is best left with the girl’s parents.
Keep offering contraceptives, but if it’s going to be offered through a school system, then parents have a right to know.