The issue of teenage sex is a very controversial one – today’s media culture increasingly fetishizes youth, to the point where sex symbols and fashion models appear younger and younger every year. Young people are learning more and more about sex earlier in life, and thus are engaging in it at younger ages. This, of course, has given rise to teenage pregnancies and STDs, as they are becoming more commonplace and less of a controversy than in previous generations, and thus less readily avoided. Despite the glorification of teen pregnancy in shows like Maury Povich and films like Juno, having an unwanted child is a big decision for a teen, and one that should not be taken lightly. Given the choice between abstinence, which is frowned upon in such a sexually liberated youth culture, and the option to explore the urges that come naturally at puberty, many teenagers with the option choose the latter.
Given the virtually unstoppable presence of sex in young people’s lives, it would naturally be in their best interests to provide them with all the same methods of contraception available to adults in order to keep them as protected as possible. When I was in high school, puberty was a very rough time for me. All manner of hormones were rushing through my body, and I was starting to learn more about myself and about the girls at school I liked. All of my classmates and friends were getting girlfriends, and I would learn about their sex lives through their gossip, eventually picking up a girlfriend of my own and learning for myself. While it all seemed very carefree, and it was nice to explore my sexuality during the time I was most curious about it, I was understandably worried. What if I got a girl pregnant? What would I do? I’m doing my best to be safe, but my girlfriend at the time was not able to get birth control, because she was not permitted to by both her parents and doctor. It was tough for her to admit that she was sexually active, but wanted to make sure she was as safe as possible.
In light of my experiences with sex as a teenager, and the worries that I have, I am sure that other teenagers of both sexes worry about learning about themselves without the proper level of protection that is afforded to adults who are sexually active. Given my interest in this issue, I posit that oral contraceptives should be administered to teenagers and made available to them, in order to prevent unwanted and unaffordable pregnancies due to an improperly protected sex life.
There are many birth control methods available, the most controversial one (where teenagers are concerned) being the combined oral contraceptive pill, which has a perfect use rate of .3%. This means that, if taken perfectly, a women has a less than 1% chance of getting pregnant, making it the most effective contraceptive method currently available. However, in many areas, teenagers cannot get a prescription for this birth control unless their parents are notified. This can be an uncomfortable subject for many teens; while it can be argued that their parents have a right to know, the fear of their parents finding out about their sexually active status can dissuade them from going in the first place. However, they still engage in sexual activity, making the chances of getting pregnant all the higher (Checkland and Wong, 1999). Nearly 12 million women in America use the pill (82% of women studied), making it a very prevalent and widely used method of contraception (Mosher et al., 2004). With this high statistic in mind, it is unclear exactly why teenagers should be prevented from using this resource of their own volition.
There are many arguments on either side for whether or not to administer birth control to teenagers. The arguments in favor of their availability stem from the desire to protect all sexually active members of society, including teenagers, from having children before they are ready. On the other side of the coin, opposing arguments believe it encourages sex and removes the consequences of such arguably reckless and dangerous actions, and does not promote ethical behavior in young people. This essay will explore these arguments in order to determine which ones have more logical, ethical and statistical validity.
Opponents of supplying birth control for teenagers believe that it places an extra burden on the health care system to provide teenagers with oral contraceptives. Expanding the creation and prescription of birth control pills and other methods of contraception would cost extra money, and would make the parents have to pay more for something that they may not emotionally agree with for their children, but could agree to merely for the sake of the child’s safety. The notification of the parents when a child asks for a prescription for birth control is a way to make sure that the parents are aware that their child is sexually active, particularly when they are responsible for them. As a result, it makes sense that they should be as informed as possible in an aspect of their life that can result in dramatic changes to their family (e.g. pregnancy).
Having a child is an expensive investment that can cost far more money than a teenager can reasonably afford. In California, for example, a child can eat up 40% of the average income for a single parent family. Abortions are also an expensive endeavor, costing hundreds of dollars and taking young women through expensive medical procedures. There is also the potential for emotional distress and anxiety that result from the abortion of a child that simply cannot be cared for if carried to term (Checkland and Wong, 1999). With these things in mind, it can be quite clear why it would cost less to have a teenager on the pill rather than get pregnant, regardless of the outcome.
There are those who believe that giving birth control to teenagers will encourage promiscuity, as they will believe they can simply have consequence-free sex as a result of the provided birth control. Opponents cite the danger of pregnancy as a deterrent for teenage and premarital sex, due to the aforementioned financial and emotional toll a child can have on a still-financially dependent child. Therefore, if oral contraceptives were introduced to teenagers, it would virtually remove the danger of pregnancy, leaving nothing stopping them from having sex indiscriminately. There is the implication cited by opponents of birth control for teenagers that it condones their sexual activity, something few but the most open-minded are comfortable doing.
There is no substantial, direct connection to the availability of birth control and frequency of sex among teenagers. According to statistics, teenage sex rates remain fairly steady, and it is pregnancy rates that drop as a consequence of the pill being used. This assertion is often thought to be a spurious claim meant to portray those who are interested in their reproductive health as merely looking for a way to have sex without consequences. This ignores the emotional consequences of sexual frustration, or all manner of emotional and mental barriers that also prevent teenagers from becoming indiscriminately sexual. The connection between the pill and promiscuity is a weak one at best, and it should not prevent those who wish to have responsible sex from doing so.
There are numerous non-sexual health benefits found in oral contraceptives for those who take them. Apart from preventing pregnancy, many women take them in order to inhibit menstrual flow and pain during menstruation; they also lower the chances of acquiring ovarian and endometrial cancers by nearly 50% (Bast et al., 2007). All-cause mortality is also lowered in women who take oral contraceptives, making the administration of the pill more than strictly a sexual health concern – it also positively affects general health.
Opponents believe that the administration of birth control will lead them to use fewer preventative methods of safe sex, and therefore increase the likelihood of getting an STD. One of the primary barriers in granting oral contraceptives to teenagers is that they will treat ‘the pill’ as a catch-all safe sex method, and ignore the chances of transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, which are not lowered through the use of oral contraception. This ties in with their thought that more sex will occur if teenagers believe there are no negative consequences.
Concerns about lack of comprehensive protection offered by birth control could be remedied through more comprehensive sex education, in lieu of abstinence-only education. As it stands now, many segments of the country feature an abstinence-only education in their schools. These programs offer little to no information on contraceptives, and even stress failure rates for condoms and other methods of birth control. The result is a scare tactic meant to frighten teenagers from having sex, as they are told that abstinence is the only reasonable method of birth control.
While it is the most effective, these programs downplay the relative safety of a great number of birth control methods, such as oral contraceptives. Not only do these programs leave out important information on how to have safe sex, these programs offer misleading or medically inaccurate information in order to paint an unreasonably negative picture of birth control. Congressional studies have shown that some abstinence-only programs claim that even genital touch will lead to pregnancy, and link abortion strongly with suicides (Connolly, 2004). There are more than 100 abstinence-only programs in the country, which have educated millions of children inaccurately on the subject of sex. The inefficiency of abstinence-only sex education is shown in the increase of STDs and pregnancy rates in areas where that is the only available sex education; those students are likely not taught the proper use of contraception, and therefore are at greater risk for pregnancy or disease transmission (DiCenso et al., 2002).
This is something that needs to be remedied through the greater use of comprehensive sex education programs in schools. These programs talk accurately about birth control as an effective means of preventing unwanted pregnancies and STDs, in addition to abstinence. The benefit of comprehensive sex education is that it addresses the concern that teenagers will only take the pill and still get STDs. However, these programs will educate teens as fully as possible on the effects and success rates of these methods, allowing teenagers to be as comprehensively informed on what their options are (Checkland and Wong, 1999).
The American discomfort with the subject of sex is one of the primary motivators behind the opposition to teenage birth control. Many of the arguments behind the opposition movement to teenage birth control stigmatizes teenage men and women who have sex as delinquents who are doing something they should not be doing. They treat the fact that teenagers are sexually active as the problem, and seek to punish them by not allowing them the same safety net that adults are allowed in their sex lives. The most difficult thing for many parents to accept is to think of their child as a sexual being, and as a result they wish to prolong that childhood as long as possible. By denying the full nature of their children’s desires and activities, many parents and officials are allowing arguably adult activities to go on without the proper safeguards, just hoping that something bad does not happen. Unless oral contraceptives are made available to teenagers, that willing ignorance can turn into an unwanted pregnancy that could affect the entire family for years to come.
In conclusion, birth control should be administered to teenagers, or made available, in order to make sure that they are protected from unwanted pregnancy. Given the rate at which teenagers are having sex, and the younger ages at which it is becoming culturally acceptable, the presence of sex in young people’s lives is clear. As a result, they should be given every opportunity to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies. The very fact that they would seek out birth control means that they are interested in protecting themselves, and with the proper, comprehensive sex education schools should provide, they can be as educated as possible about the dangers of unsafe sex, and the other methods of birth control.
Combining birth control with other protective methods of contraception can help to prevent both STDs and pregnancy, thus preventing teenagers from being forced to choose between an expensive, unwanted child and a costly, emotionally charged abortion. In light of the incredible costs of both abortions and carrying a child to term and raising them, the comparatively inexpensive option of birth control becomes more feasible. The primary opposition to the argument of birth control administration to teenagers seeks to merely ignore the issue of teenage reproductive health, and believes that they should not be having sex in the first place. However, given the relatively difficult and unreasonable demand that places on an increasingly sexually liberated youth culture, it is a far more feasible measure to make birth control available to them, so they may engage in what is, arguably, a consensual and natural activity that should not be prohibited in extremis.
In researching this topic, I learned that my thoughts on the subject of teenage birth control were supported by the evidence and viewpoints I found. I knew that my nervousness about teenage pregnancy was not unfounded, as it would be a financially and emotionally devastating process for any young girl, particularly me. However, with the improvement of sex education and the availability of oral contraceptives, young women like me could have healthy sex lives while still taking whatever measures existed to guard against the potential consequences of unsafe sex.
ACOG. "Birth Control -- Especially for Teens." American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. N.p., 1 June 2011. Web. 4 Sept. 2011. <http://www.acog.org/publications/patient_education/bp112.cfm>.
Bast, RC, Brewer M, and Zou C. “Prevention and early detection of ovarian cancer: mission impossible?”
Recent Results Cancer Res.174 (2007): 91-100.
Checkland, David, and James Wong. Teen pregnancy and parenting: social and ethical issues. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1999. Print.
Connolly, Ceci. "Some Abstinence Programs Mislead Teens, Report Says (washingtonpost.com)." The Washington Post: National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines - The Washington Post. Web. 4 Sept. 2011. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A26623-2004Dec1.html>.
DiCenso, A, G Guyatt, A Willan, and L Griffith. "Interventions to reduce unintended pregnancies among adolescents: systematic review of randomised controlled trials." BMJ 7351 (2002): 1426. Print.
Mosher WD, Martinez GM, Chandra A, Abma JC, Willson SJ. "Use of contraception and use of family planning services in the United States: 1982–2002.” Adv Data 350 (2004): 1–36.