Friday, April 24, 2009

Plan B From Outer Space

One thing I've noticed as the father of a girl is how pathologically fearful most fathers appear with regard to their daughter's sexuality. They want to hide it, defend it, squelch it. They wrongly center themselves as the guardians of something that does not belong to them, something they can only guide passively if at all.

It seems obvious to many of us, but some people still cling to the belief that they can control their child's sexual behavior. We can influence it, certainly, and we are all encouraged to do so, but the facts are that our daughters are having sex whether we like it or not, and all we can do is make sure they're taken care of properly.

Recently, Plan B was approved for...well, you can read the link. Basically, 17-year olds can get it now.

This is a good thing. Why?

According to the Guttmacher Institute:

•Most young people have sex for the first time at about age 17, but do not marry until their middle or late 20s. This means that young adults are at risk of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) for nearly a decade.

•The proportion of teens who had ever had sex declined from 49% to 46% among females and from 55% to 46% among males between 1995 and 2002. [this is still around half]

•A sexually active teen who does not use contraceptives has a 90% chance of becoming pregnant within a year.

•One in five teens whose parents do not know they obtain contraceptive services would continue to have sex but would either rely on withdrawal or not use any contraceptives if the law required that their parents be notified of their visit.

•Eighty-two percent of teen pregnancies are unplanned; they account for about one in five of all unintended pregnancies annually.

•Teen mothers are now more likely than in the past to complete high school or obtain a GED, but they are still less likely than women who delay childbearing to go on to college.

•The reasons teens give most frequently for having an abortion are concern about how having a baby would change their lives, inability to afford a baby now and feeling insufficiently mature to raise a child.

The points were cherry-picked to show that 1) our daughters are quite likely to have sex while still teenagers, 2) they are highly likely to become pregnant if not allowed access to some form of contraception, 3) if they are denied access they're likely to continue their activity unprotected, 4) teen mothers are, overall, less educated than their adult counterparts, and 5) they KNOW pregnancy at their age is a bad idea.

Even for those of us with good father-daughter relationships, our girls are not going to tell us everything. If it's hard for you to talk to her about sex, imagine how hard it is for her to do the same with you. Then imagine that she's gone and had sex despite all your carrying on about morality and responsibility and how likely does it become that she'll even consider asking you for help if she had unprotected sex or suspects she could be pregnant?

I'm going to guess that the chance is low.

The discrete availability of this pill to 17-year old girls won't help the STI front, but it may just save a few of them a lifetime of condemnation, lost opportunities, and unwanted children.


Michael said...

Interesting stuff, Wyrmdog.

As a parent of 3 girls and 1 boy (with raging hormones), I have the same concerns you have. The statistics are grim, indeed.

Having said that, I've seen some division within the statistics that causes me to have a little more hope than I otherwise might. The last numbers I read indicate that 80-90% of teenage pregancies are among black girls. Since our daughters fall into the remaining precentile, we at least have a leg up to begin with.

From everything I've read, I take the most solace in a mixed approach. Abstinence-only methods fail, but so do contraceptive-only approaches.

In our home we're aiming for clear, open, two-way communication (I'm sure you are promoting this as well). This includes discussions regarding all of the implications of an active sexual lifestyle before marriage, not just the possibility of pregnancy.

Additionally, as a Christian parent, I don't shy away from the "right and wrong" part of the discussion. While I talk to my kids about the biological, emotional, and social implications of having an active sexual lifestyle before marriage I also include the spiritual and moral elements.

I like how Beverley Hughes said it: "This is not just about the mechanics of sex, it is about relationships, moral values and about making clear what is right and wrong and what you expect from young people, but it is doing that in a way that enables them to take part in the dialogue."

Her comments came after reviewing a government-backed leaflet that is telling parents to avoid teaching their children about right and wrong when discussing sex.

I think Mike Judge of The Christian Institute made a good point as well when he said: "The Government seems to be doing all it can to undermine parents and create an atmosphere for young people where they feel they are expected to be having sex.

"Young people need to know the emotional, psychological and medical risks involved with underage sex, and the benefits of waiting until marriage.

"Handing out condoms, offering contraceptive injections and pointing them to family planning clinics is not the way to encourage young people to delay sexual activity."

(italics added)

But again, neither is simply telling them to abstain. I find my kids take me seriously when I take them seriously. We have adult conversations about this stuff and talk about all sides of the issue. In the end, I hope they'll feel the following ways about teenage sex:

1) It's morally unacceptable

2) It's a deeper level of emotional attachment within a relationship that they just aren't ready for and shouldn't be looking for at that time in their lives

3) It's dangerous

4) There are many more personal benefits for them if they can hold out and wait to have sexual relations with their life partner

5) If they really aren't impressed by the 4 items above, there are indeed contraceptives available, and these are encouraged if they decide they are adult enough to have sex anyway

6) Concerning #5, they need to realize it's not going to "cure" everything. Contraceptives may prevent pregnancy, but they don't counteract #'s 1-4 above

Wyrmdog said...

Thanks for the comments. =)

First of all, I find it interesting that you say you don't shy away from discussions of morality because you're Christian. Non-Christians and even the non-religious often also explore this topic.

I think it's important to remember that 'government-backed' doesn't mean what pundits often believe it does (and yes, I've been guilty of this myself). The government often funds initiatives it cannot fully vet due to a lack of resources, so saying that the government endorses undermining parental authority and advocates the expectation of teenage sex. After all, at a minimum, the last 8 years have seen nothing but a cry to abstain over and over (and an accompanying lack of funds for anything other than abstinence education), the rough equivalent of sticking its fingers in its ears and saying, "If I can't hear you talk about sex, maybe you're not having it. Just say no!"

So while I am in complete agreement that discussions about sex should involve wider ranging subject matter than biology, I am in complete disagreement that the government is colluding with a conspiracy to get our children to run out and have sex.

But this isn't about morality, it isn't about abstinence or permission. It's about the realization that our children are not unlike us, that they are discrete individuals whose thoughts run 24-7 just like ours and whose hormones are far more motivating than our own and whose judgment lacks the life experience we all like to think we have (because, let's face it, STDs are on the rise most markedly among boomers...age does not necessarily beget wisdom). This is about me looking out for my daughter and providing her with the tools she needs to live a happy life regardless of the sexual choices she makes or what I think of them.

My first responsibility is to her, and I won't deny either of us access to another tool to use in coping with the harsh realities of life in this world.