Is the Goal to Reduce Teenage Pregnancies or Teenage Sex?
You may have read in the news about the decision in New York City to make Plan B emergency contraceptive available to any public high school student without her parents’ knowledge, as long as her parent did not opt out of the program.
This program was rolled out in five New York City public high schools in January 2011. By September 2012, the program had been expanded to 13 public high schools. Today, the program is in more than 40 public high schools in New York City.
Last semester, I decided to ask students what they thought about the idea of making Plan B emergency contraceptive available confidentially to high school students.
At the beginning of each class on the first day, I passed out a slip of paper with the following question on it:
Do you think it is a good idea for high school girls to be able to get Plan B emergency contraceptive from the school nurse without their parents’ knowledge?
I explained the decision in the New York City public school system and asked them to answer the above question anonymously. We discussed the issue as a class after all the papers were returned, which often led to a debate among the students. It was always very interesting to listen to the various perspectives.
Some students thought making the contraceptive so readily available would be encouraging students to have sex. Others said they would be upset as a parent if the school usurped their authority, while others thought it was a good idea because at least they may be preventing a pregnancy.
When the classes ended, I was always anxious to tally the surveys to see if the votes reflected what seemed to be the prevailing sentiment among the students and they did. Two out of three of the students did not think it was a good idea for high schools to dispense Plan B emergency contraceptive to students.
Following are the actual results of the survey at three high schools:
Out of 529 students surveyed, 67% (352) thought it was NOT a good idea, while 33% (177) thought it WAS a good idea.
I purposely did not share my opinion with the students prior to them taking the survey. But I did share it over the course of my time with them and I will share it with you now.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that teens that have emergency contraception readily available will be less likely to use condoms, as confirmed by the following quote in this article by a student who has utilized the service.
I can hear the conversation now, “Baby we don’t need to use condoms because you can just go get that pill at school tomorrow.” Plan B provides 0% protection against STDs. Even if the number of pregnancies goes down, will we see the number of STDs increase since birth control is not disease control?
I am afraid that in the process of doing what they think will solve one problem they will likely create another problem, which is more STDs. That is not to mention Plan B’s lack of protection against the emotional consequences that often result from teenage sex.
At the end of class on the second day, I passed out an identical survey and told them to vote again to see if what they heard in the past two days had influenced their opinions on this decision.
Following are the results of the surveys after hearing me speak for three hours:
Out of 498 students surveyed, 81% (403) thought it was NOT a good idea for school nurses to distribute Plan B emergency contraceptive, while 19% (95) thought it WAS a good idea.
Though the decision made in New York City may seem to some like a great solution to the problem of teenage pregnancies, I think the bigger concern should be addressing the issue of teenagers having sex. In fact, most of the letters I receive from teenagers who have suffered negative consequences as a result of their sexual decisions have nothing to do with a pregnancy.
As a result, my presentation covers much more than the physical consequences of teenage sexual activity; and I believe that is one of the reasons the number of students who thought it was not a good idea to supply New York City public school students with Plan B, increased to 8 out of 10.
Before your talk I always thought that everything would be ok if we are safe and use birth control or a condom but now I view it in a different light. I now think that being abstinent is the correct choice because it’s not just about dealing with a teenage pregnancy or getting an incurable disease but instead a question of self-worth.
Here is the bottom line: We must decide whether our goal is to reduce teen pregnancies or reduce teenage sexual activity.
If reducing teenage sexual activity is the goal, who better to ask how to prevent behavior than those we are trying to prevent from participating in said behavior? In next week’s post, I will share with you what students say will reduce the amount of sexual activity among teens. So, make sure you have signed up to get future blog posts delivered directly to your inbox.
What do you think it will take to decrease the number of teenagers who are sexually active?