You might have seen the recent news about the middle school in Maine – King Middle School, in the Portland school district – that is planning to provide birth control to pre-teens, without requiring explicit parental consent. School officials argue that this will help to prevent pre-teen pregnancies, and estimate that at least 5 out of 135 of their 11- to 13-year-old female students are sexually active already.
While I absolutely sympathize with the desire to avoid pre-teen pregnancies, and I do understand that there is a reality here that some very young children will become sexually active at the tender age of 11, I personally do not support giving pre-pubescent girls hormone-altering tablets. We do not have good studies demonstrating the safety of such therapies in children, and until we do it’s just not medically sound to be offering this treatment. (For example, we don’t know what extra estrogen does to early breast buds, or whether there’s an increased risk for developing breast cancer later on.)
I also think that 11 year olds are not physically and emotionally prepared for sexual intimacy – and the prematurity of this event could be quite harmful for their psyche. We know that 11- and 12-year-old brains are not fully developed to think the way adults do, so there’s really no telling what impact it could have or what long term psychological effects might result.
Apparently sex before the age of 14 is illegal in Maine, so (although there’s no doubt that it may happen prior to that age) it seems that the state’s legal system is not in step with their school system, and that needs to be looked at. It is inconsistent to claim that an activity is illegal for children and then enable it with tax dollars.
I suppose that education about the use of condoms and access to them (without aggressive promotion of them) may be acceptable at this age. After all, condoms can prevent STDs and don’t have medical effects on the body as a whole. But my plea is that parents take the lead here – and educate your children about the risks of STDs, pregnancy, and the emotional damage that premature sex can have on a young person. Advocate for abstinence as a first choice, explain that condoms are non-negotiable, and try to help them turn their focus away from sex and towards more age-appropriate endeavors.
A new Dove advertising campaign asks parents to talk to their kids before the beauty industry does, and I think the same goes for sex and the media. Today’s parent must launch a preemptive strike against the over-sexualization of children, or risk having their 11 year olds taking estrogen patches from a school nurse without their consent.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.