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Teen sex: Middle-schoolers get the Pill

Teen sex: Middle-schoolers get the Pill

Call me old-fashioned, said Charles Sykes in the New York Daily News, but I don’t think 11-year-old girls should have sex. This quaint belief puts me at odds with the Portland, Maine, school board, which has just voted to let students at King Middle School—most of whom are between 11 and 13—get contraceptive pills and patches from the student health center without their parents being informed. Lest you think people in Portland have just lost their minds, the same sort of thinking is now cropping up in other middle schools across the nation. Some children are having sex anyway, argue the “self-proclaimed realists,” so shouldn’t we keep them as safe as possible? It’s no less absurd than dealing with the reality of teen smoking by handing out low-tar cigarettes to the seventh grade, said M.D. Harmon in the Portland Press Herald. Instead, we tell kids not to smoke “and make it illegal to sell them tobacco.”

Let me state for the record that “nobody thinks it’s a good idea for 11-year-olds to have sex,” said Margery Eagan in the Boston Herald. But let’s look at the facts. King Middle School partly serves a population of poor kids and newly arrived immigrants, and some of the girls in the eighth grade are 14 and 15. Some of these girls are already sexually active; indeed, there have been 17 pregnancies in Portland’s middle schools in the last four years. The district was just trying to make available to lower-class girls the same kind of health services available to teenage girls who can afford private gynecologists. No one, moreover, is simply handing these girls the Pill, said The Boston Globe in an editorial. Girls requesting birth control must “first travel a long—even arduous—road of counseling.” The nurses at the district’s health center gently inform girls about the perils of underage sex, and urge them to talk to their parents and notify the authorities if an older man has victimized them. So why all the “outrage”?

Blame the Culture Wars, said Nancy Gibbs in Time. Conservatives like to portray those who support teaching teens about birth control as amoral nihilists, while liberals condemn those who advocate abstinence as “Puritanical theocrats.” If we looked at the issue pragmatically, we might see that all the evidence supports a “combined approach.” That means urging kids to delay sex until they’re older, but also helping them to avoid getting pregnant or a sexually transmitted disease if they listen to their hormones, instead of to lectures by adults.

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