Published on The Daily Femme – Thursday, July 15, 2010
Taking TheDailyFemme to the streets, coffee shops, libraries, art galleries, sports games, buses, trains, and using e-mail, we ask women all over the country (and sometimes the world) one simple question. What we get in return is a lot of insight, advice, some nervous confusion and even a hug or two.
Interviews were contributed by Annamarya Scaccia, Kate Friedman, and Cherie Hannouche
This week’s question: A school in Provincetown, MA, was recently under scrutiny for making condoms available to all students, with no age restriction. Do you think condoms and contraceptives should be available to students regardless of age and is it important to make the requests confidential to protect students’ privacy or should teachers and parents be involved?
Eva Leven-New York, NY
My first instinct would be to say no, I don’t think that teachers need to know about it so long as they are not directly affected by it (so, school nurse, yes, calculus teacher, not so much). In terms of parents…questionable. I feel like the reason that a student would get it through school to begin with is so that their parents WOULDN’T know about it, you know? which makes me feel like hey, at least they’re being safe. On the other hand I do think that it may make sense to have some sort of age restriction, say 16, as a minimum requirement…I mean, obviously if there’s a free-condom policy there’s nothing stopping older students from getting them and giving them to younger ones, but at least this way the school isn’t directly and knowingly condoning sex between thirteen-year-olds or something like that.
[Name Withheld]-Arlington, VA
I completely disagree with this policy. Legally speaking – in most states (if not all?) in the US the age of consent is SIXTEEN which means even if the sex is “consensual” it is still considered statutory rape since they are considered too young to give consent. This school is giving condoms to children in elementary school so the kids are below the LEGAL AGE which means they are encouraging breaking the law. Once a child reaches the “age of consent”, give them condoms – I don’t care.
Rachel Jones-Syracuse, NY
If a young adult is in need of condoms, they should have access to condoms. Marking a certain age bracket as “too young” for contraceptives is extremely dangerous due to the often times stark differential between what the parent/school deem as the “suitable” age to begin engaging in sexual intercourse vs. the actual age that young people begin having sex. If a young adult decides they are ready to have sex, they will often do so without using a condom, particularly if they have no knowledge and/or limited access to contraceptives. Withholding clear and accurate information about sex from students does nothing but keep kids ignorant of the realities of STDs and teen pregnancy. Schools need to begin empowering young people to make informed decisions about sex, rather than bolstering the abstinence only agendas of the religiously conservative.
Mimi Rai – New York, NY
I think age should be a consideration, because when you start handing out condoms to 12 yr olds it might make them think it is an okay age to get sexually involved.
Leah – Brooklyn, NY
Condoms and fully comprehensive sex education should be freely available to everyone who wants them, regardless of age or parent/guardian permission. The argument against providing these services is the false notion that Sex Ed increases sexual activity, rather than the safety of sexual activity. This has been disproved in multiple scientific studies; not providing information and contraception does not reduce sexual activity, it merely propagates unsafe sexual activity, leading to STIs and pregnancies. Unfortunately, sex is always going to occur among people most of us don’t feel are psychologically ready-better for individuals to know the risks involved and how to reduce them, and not cause suffering through our moralizing.
Devora – Brooklyn, NY
Personally, i feel that if a school does this they must also give sex ed courses. I also feel things like this shouldn’t be done till high school but I know a lot of people who began to experiment with sexuality during middle school.
Lucky – Brooklyn, NY
You’re not going to stop kids from having sex — unless you preach abstinence over and over again and we know how well that works — so you might as well make sure they’re not going to get pregnant and/or have STDs.
Shannon – Astoria, NY
Times have changed for sure. Parents are either single parents, or in the situation where both parents are working to make ends meet, which leaves limited time for educating/monitoring their own children. It is now up to schools, that spend more time with children than the parents do, to take on the responsibility of sex education and providing for it.
In addition to the “times have changed” argument, kids of all ages have access to sex and how it sells, i.e. unrestricted access to the internet that includes media ranging from mild to raunchy.
I feel that providing contraceptives should involve teachers and parents to a degree. Most children do not have the means to take responsibility for the consequences of sex, both protected and unprotected, and ultimately parents do. In an ideal world it would be easy to talk to your parents, especially about sex. However, schools providing contraception is a good way of insuring a safer way to practice sex without the fear of being judged by a parent and ultimately deterring kids from protection altogether.
Stephen – Bronx, NY
I think condoms should be available from junior high up. The kids who want to have sex are going to have sex. Not having contraceptives in the schools isn’t going to prevent anything, nor do I think their availability promotes sex. It’s just an option for kids who have chosen to be sexually active. It’s like, “We’d prefer if you don’t, but if you do, since we can’t stop you, we’d at least like for you to be safe.” Besides, I think a lot of the condoms distributed in schools wind up in boys’ wallets for show or get used for easy-clean masturbation.
Maria – Philippines
Recently, in the Philippines, there was a study that showed that the ubiquity of free condoms did nothing to curb unwanted pregnancy or STD transmission. Another startling statistic in the same study had to do with the sharp rise in recent teen pregnancies (13 to 18 years old). I think this was the case (at least partially) because there was no education attached to the offer of birth control, and also because there is a stigma of fear and silence associated with women and sex.
I think it’s important to offer people – regardless of age, or any other personal characteristics for that matter – birth control with no strings attached. I also think it’s equally important to inform everyone of the proper practices of safe sex, and to remind people of the dangers of sex – emotional, physical and otherwise. My greater fear is not that young people are having sex, but that immature and sexually-ignorant people are having sex.
Kate – Palmyra, NJ
I believe that this is an age old question that might never come to a conclusion as it is somehow thought of as “controversial.” Offering condoms at school should not be condemned or questioned, but encouraged. I believe that certain groups argue this point because they are under the impression that just because contraceptives are made available to students, this somehow means students are absolutely going to start having sex at any age.
My response to this is simple: Parents you are key here. Teach your children about sex. Don’t wait for the school to teach them everything because chances are, at that awkward age, your kids aren’t paying as much attention as they probably should in health class. Peers are around them making jokes, whispering to each other, passing notes and giggling about the word “penis.” Let’s get real- If you don’t want you children to have underage sex, whatever “underage” means, then teach them about it. And I don’t just mean about the dangers of sex- the diseases, teen pregnancies, date rape drugs- but about everything. About how they feel about all of it. About whether or not they are emotionally and physically mature enough to appreciate it. About how love should play a huge role when making the decision whether to have sex or not, because it can enhance the whole experience that much more.
Everything else aside, if nothing else, at least your children will be protected if they do decide to make that decision. What would you prefer? Pregnancies and diseases running rampant through schools? If it is in their heads that they are going to have sex regardless of what they have learned, then they are going to. At least offer them the chance to be safe about it. If it’s too awkward to have parents get involved (although, really?), then offer students protection out in the open- in the nurse’s office or health class. Somewhere they can get what they need to be safe without having to feel like the Spanish Inquisition will be standing there demanding the date, time and location they plan on having sex. Always remember that because a student has a condom in his or her possession doesn’t mean they are sexually active or are planning on having sex any time soon. It never hurts to be prepared.
*Special thanks to Greg, Stephen, Maria & Lucky who reposted the question for me on their pages.