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Moms of teen girls are likely going a bit ballistic this week.
First came the recommendation from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that all people between the ages of 15 and 65 should be routinely tested for HIV. Now, a few days later, a federal judge has ordered the FDA to make the morning after pill available to all women, regardless of age within 30 days. (Currently, girls 16 and under need a doctor’s prescription to get it.)
In other words, the U.S. government is finally admitting to what the rest of the world already knows: Kids are having sex. And since we can’t stop them, we might as well help sexually active teens stay safe.
I know for some people, this all feels highly controversial. Why don’t we just smoke pot with them or let them get drunk in our homes while we’re at it -- which, by the way, I do not advocate. The difference is, high school sex isn’t illegal, nor is it particularly harmful -- if couples are practicing safe sex.
Most of the things that terrify us about our kids having sex are the things that we can protect them from, or at least educate them about: STDs and unwanted pregnancies. The other stuff, like loss of innocence and heartbreak, well, those things are normal and an inevitable part of growing up. They make us who we are today.
Think of your first time. You were likely in high school. It probably sucked. You got over it and eventually learned how to have sex that was meaningful and enjoyable. Chances are, you weren’t irrevocably scarred. If you were, having a supportive parent by your side to help you through it probably would have helped. But that’s not the society we live in, since parents, at least in the U.S., prefer to be in denial about their kids’ burgeoning sexuality.
Because it’s forbidden and bad and shameful, we believe the only teens who are getting laid must be from broken homes or have low self-esteem. So of course they’re being irresponsible about sex. With such a hefty stigma attached to sex, we certainly don’t make it easy for them to feel comfortable buying condoms or talking to their doctor about STD prevention.
According to an article in the Washington Post, most leading doctors and researchers believe this decidedly Western attitude is doing our kids more harm than good. Although teen sex is just as prevalent here as it is abroad, “U.S. rates of teen pregnancy, childbirth, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases are among the highest of all industrialized nations.”
I know -- since I don’t have kids, it’s so easy for me to say this. And I admit, when I saw a picture on Instagram of my 17-year-old niece wrapped in the arms of her much-older boyfriend, I got upset, because I wanted to protect her. These ingrained notions that we have about sex run deep and they’re going to be hard to change. But I do believe that we have to trust that our teenagers are both stronger and smarter than we give them credit for, and do what we can to help them make healthy decisions about sex. If that means teaching them why they should wait until marriage, so be it. But we also need to let them know that we’ve got their back if that’s not the path they choose to take.