Tuesday, November 13, 2007

AP Public School Contraceptive Poll Results

In a recent poll conducted by the Associated Press, prompted by a school board in Portland, Maine that voted to let a middle school health center provide students with full contraceptive services, results showed that 67% of parents approve of contraceptives being dispensed by public schools. 37% approved with the proviso that the student has a parent's consent and 30% approve under all circumstances. Another 30% does not approve of school-dispensed birth control.

Parents are almost evenly divided about whether the availability of birth control will prompt teens to become sexually active earlier, with a slight majority of 49% believing that it would not cause earlier intercourse and 46% believing that it would. People are also closely split over whether sex education and birth control are more effective than stressing morality and abstinence, with a 51 to 46 percent ratio in favor of sex education/birth control.

Minorities, older and lower-earning people were likeliest to prefer requiring parental consent, while those favoring no restriction tended to be younger and from cities or suburbs. People who wanted schools to provide no birth control at all were likelier to be white and higher-income earners.

Personally, I think it's a good idea. I think it's up to the school to provide factual information, and it's the parents' role to teach whatever moral beliefs they have on the subject.

It may seem to some that the school is undermining the parents' role by providing birth control, but history has shown us that all the exhortations in the world to be abstinent often lose out under the strength of teenage hormones. To allow teens access to birth control while at the same time telling them they should wait until they're married or at least adults isn't necessarily a mixed message. Rather, it's to say that one thing is their ideal, but we love you enough to give you the means to protect yourself if you choose not to or are unable to live up to our ideal.

Indeed, I'm sure most parents would prefer their teens to take responsibility for their choices, even if it's not the choice they'd want them to make. It would be vastly preferable to them bringing a child into the world years before they're ready to be parents or to go through the heartache of giving a child up for adoption. And anti-abortion parents ought to believe that the responsible use of contraceptives is preferable to their daughter getting an abortion.

As for my son, because he went to middle and high school in a Bible Belt state, I didn't trust the sex ed classes to give him comprehensive information. I made sure that he learned the facts of life as soon as he became a teenager and the likelihood of him becoming sexually active became greater. I showed him how to use a condom and stressed to him that it was up to him to protect himself and not leave it up to his partner; that his partner could either be lackadaisical about it or worse, could manipulate him by getting pregnant on purpose. It apparently worked, because he's nearly 27 and hasn't slipped up yet. My son will become a father only when he is ready, which is how it should be.

And shouldn't that be what it's all about? Sex ed and access to birth control are about giving people the power to decide when and if they are going to become parents; it isn't primarily about morality. Our ethics and morality should predate our initiation into sexual activity, not be defined by it.


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