By Callie Otto, Choice USA intern
My 16 year-old brother got his first real girlfriend a few months ago. As the sex-obsessed one in the family, I’ve decided it’s my job to make sure he knows everything he needs to know about sex.
Truthfully, I’d prefer it if my brother waited until he was 30. I don’t want to acknowledge my little brother as a sexual person, but on average, teens have sex for the first time by age 17. So chances are, now’s the time he’ll be needing my lectures the most.
Yes, it’s going to be uncomfortable. And I talk about sex all the time, so I can’t even imagine how uncomfortable it would be for a normal person. We live in a society that tells young people that sex is dirty, wrong, evil, etc. We tell them not to have sex until they’re married, or at least adults, but we don’t really offer much else from there. We know it’s happening, but we’re so uncomfortable with it that we just don’t talk about it.
As we can see from the heavy correlation between lower unplanned teen pregnancy rates and comprehensive sex education, we need to be talking about it. So despite the fact that the idea of my brother having sex makes me a little uncomfortable, I know that my brother is a pretty bright young man, capable of making his own informed decisions, and I want to make sure he has every resource he needs to make those decisions.
So, I lecture. I tell him that sex is sex. Vaginal, oral, or anal, it’s all sex. I stress again and again that he better be using a condom during any kind of sex. I tell him about good communication and consent.
Once he has the education he needs, the next step is making sure he has access to the resources he needs. Is his girlfriend on birth control? What obstacles could be standing in the way of her accessing that? Does he need condoms?
And what about access to Plan B?
In 2011 HHS overruled the FDA recommendation that Plan B be available over the counter to persons of any age, instead limiting access to those over 17 without a prescription. After a judge ruled that emergency contraception must be available over the counter to all ages, last month the FDA then agreed to lower the age limit to 15. While this is an improvement, it still ignores the science and places arbitrary restrictions between young people and their health needs. It’s not good enough.
This is a perfect example of how our society views teen sexuality – the false assertion from the Obama administration that Plan B is too “dangerous” for young women. The thing is, it isn’t dangerous at all. This idea isn’t scientific, but rather rooted in our ignorance and fear of teen sexuality. I understand the desire to make decisions based on this fear, like I said, I’d prefer it if my brother waited until he was 30 to have sex. But policy about the health, rights, and decision making ability of young people can’t come from fear and ignorance. Policies like this won’t stop teens from having sex, it only limits their ability to engage in safe sex and prevent unplanned pregnancy.
While my brother is fortunate enough to have a valid ID to purchase Plan B, other barriers still need to be considered. Can they afford it? What if the pharmacist refuses to sell it to them?
And even if my brother has all of the tools and resources he needs to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, what about all the other kids he goes to school with? What about the students that are under 15 or don’t have an ID? How are they supposed to access these resources?
My siblings and I all grew up in the Catholic school system, which means our “sex education” consisted of one week each year in which our religion classes were dedicated to scare tactics and slut shaming. (Some years we also had a school-wide assembly where they handed out tiny metal pins that were supposed to represent fetus footprints and then shamed us some more.) I don’t know how things will turn out for my brother and his peers, but I know that of my high school graduating class of 53 students, two were pregnant.
The barriers most teenagers face to accessing these resources, those are the problem. Not the fact that teens are having sex. I, however, propose two remarkably simple solutions to that problem.
1) Talk about it: Like I said, it’s going to be uncomfortable. But whether its your sister, brother, cousin, or your own teen; whether its in the car, over dinner, or during “lets talk month,” you’ve just gotta do it. Its up to us to end the shame and stigma that prevents teens from taking every initiative to make sure the sex they have is safe.
2) Stand up for access: How do we make sure teens have all the tools and resources they need to stay safe? Well, first off, they need legal access to those tools. They need access to Plan B. To birth control sold over the counter. To every possible resource out there. If they have those resources, I think you’ll be pretty impressed with their ability to make some smart choices.
I’ll be doing my part to make sure my brother has the ability to make his own decisions about sex. I’ll be having plenty of talks with him, sending him over to Bedsider.org so he can learn more about contraception, and encouraging him to check out all of the resources that are available to him. I’m also signing this petition from The Nation, reminding President Obama of his own words that, “when it comes to [any person’s] health, no politician should get to decide what’s best for you.”