With sex, age is not just a number

Sex: This once taboo subject has become anything but. We live in a society in which the birds and the bees are no mystery to the youth of America, as sex exists in abundance in film, television, music and advertisements.

In recent years, teen sexuality has started to be acknowledged, on the grounds that if it can't be stopped, it might as well be made safe. Organizations such as Planned Parenthood have helped educate teens and promote safe sex by serving as an affordable and private way for young people to practice responsible sex, safeguarding themselves against STIs and preventing unwanted pregnancy. As vital as I believe it is for programs like this to be available to sexually active teens, I've begun to wonder about our society's method of dealing with teen sexuality.

For the past week, a middle school in Portland, Maine has been the subject of quite a controversy. The health center at the school received permission from school officials to offer birth control prescriptions to its students, who range from age 11 to 14. When I was 11, I'm pretty sure I was afraid to talk to boys, let alone have any sort of physical contact with them. Representatives of the school tried to argue their case, saying that it was an extremely small percentage of girls that would require such prescriptions. Even still, I find it inappropriate for a middle school to simply give birth control to girls who aren't even old enough to consent to sexual activity.

The absurdity of this got me thinking - what's really going on? Has it gotten to the point where parents have so little interest in discussing the topic of sex with their kids that it has become the burden of society? Of course, if it means preventing teen pregnancy and the spread of STIs, organizations like Planned Parenthood are better than nothing.

But when it gets to the point where birth control is being offered to children in middle school, we have to look beyond the quick fix of just providing them with contraceptives because it's "safe" and look to find out why an 11- or even 14-year-old would be sexually active. It seems clear to me that a sexually active preteen needs guidance, not to be given birth control and swept under the rug. That does nothing to solve the problem, but rather encourages it and even condones it. And that is not safe.