The problem with condom jars for 12-year-old kids

I first heard about the Teen Wellness Center at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., and how the center was offering condoms to patients as young as twelve years old, while watching the Thursday, July 19 “Culture War” segment on “The O’Reilly Factor.” The story was also covered a week before it was mentioned on “The Factor” by CNS News.com. The story is that at this wellness center at T.C. Williams High School, patients of the clinic between the ages of 12 and 19 can help themselves to free condoms in a large jar visible right when walking into the lobby.

In a telephone interview with CNSNews.com, Dr. Stephen Haering, director of the Alexandria Health Department, mentions “that anybody that’s coming who’s sexually active, we advise them, we highly recommend that they include their parents.” Well, that’s nice that they “highly recommend” parent involvement. As guest Gretchen Carlson on “The Factorpoints out, though, “[h]ere’s the amazing thing[: y]ou need parental consent to get an immunization, a physical, or to participate in sports, but not to get your hands on condoms.” Permission to participate in sports is a big deal, as it is to get an immunization or a physical. But to engage in sexual activity, protected or not, is also quite a big deal – maybe even more so, what with the emotions involved and the possible physical consequences of sex.

What was also mentioned in the segment when it aired and is in the CNSNews.com article is the fact that it is considered statutory rape, according to the state, for those 15-year-old and under to engage in sex. Yet the clinic states several times that the age bracket for its patients includes those as young as 12-year-old. I understand that the teen clinic is doing its part to protect sexually active teens from disease and pregnancy, but I would prefer some consistency. The article does mention that those 15 and under are referred to Social Services, but if the clinic is to truly protect young teens from state defined rape then proper measures should be put into place to see that the clinic was not promoting this illegal activity.

The second guest on “The Factor,Jeanine Pirro, endorsed (albeit reluctantly) condom handouts in school clinics when she said, “I come at this as a judge and a district attorney and we have all seen the consequences of children having children – abused and neglected children and abortion and sexually transmitted diseases. So the bottom line for me is, I hate it, I don’t like to normalize teen sexual behavior, but let’s deal with the fact that 47% of children in high school have already had sex.”

I agree with Jeanine Pirro in that I don’t like to normalize teen sexual behavior, either. I understand that some teens are going to engage in sex, and I am in no way denying that. I would prefer programs be taught with a focus on abstinence and its benefits rather than those that go into detail about different kinds of sexual activity which students may engage in and use contraception for. I can also see the merits of some more comprehensive programs which do teach students about and remind them to use contraception if they are or are going to be sexually active. We can still acknowledge the fact that some teenagers are having sex without having to normalize the behavior, which handing out free condoms in a large jar does. To me, it says something like, oh, you’re having sex? Don’t worry about taking responsibility and providing birth control for yourself – we’ll take away that responsibility and do it for you!

I am 21, and thus no longer a teenager. My 19-year-old boyfriend, however, still is one. We both went to public school, where we were taught and reminded about using protection when sexually active, and we are aware of how to prevent diseases and unplanned pregnancies. Neither of our high schools had clinics or health centers that provided free condoms. We also met at Fordham, a Catholic university, which does not provide condoms or birth control at the health center.

However, if we chose to engage in premarital sex, we would still be able to do so while protecting ourselves. I am someone who is against birth control pills because of the health risks associated and other side effects, not to mention the fact that some birth control pills may act as an abortifacient. If I were to go on birth control, though, I would have access to it by filling a prescription from my doctor at a pharmacy or by going to a Title X clinic. Condoms, which are not an age-restricted item, can be purchased at a pharmacy, a grocery store, Target, or Walmart, just to name a few.

My boyfriend and I would be the ones engaging in sex. If we could not afford change needed to buy condoms ourselves, well then the smart and responsible course of action would be not to have sex. Us not being able to acquire condoms would be a funds issue, certainly not an access issue. I do not believe in school clinics providing my boyfriend with free condoms, or in one of our parents buying condoms for us. It is our decision to have sex, and thus, it is our responsibility to take proper precautions and measures.

Let me be clear that I am not against teen condom usage. Condoms protect against unplanned pregnancies and diseases. However, part of the responsibility of the parties engaged in the sexual activity must be an acknowledgment that condoms are not 100 percent effective, even when used correctly, and thus a pregnancy may still result from sexual intercourse even when protection is used. Teens are taught to be responsible with their sexual decisions (which could include remaining abstinent) or at least they should be. I do not see how giving teens handouts of free condoms, and thus inviting them to have sex, is consistent in teaching responsibility for one’s actions and decisions. It also raises the question as to what those engaging in sexual activity will do when they no longer are patients of a teen clinic. They will have to then acquire condoms or birth control on their own. Since it will happen at some point, it may as well happen at the start.

Since there is no issue of access for acquiring contraceptives, I wonder at the need for such clinics in the first place, besides the fact that it takes out the responsibility component. Assuming that these clinics operate where students are already learning about condoms and other forms of birth control, it seems that such clinics may be more than just redundant in reminding students of the value of safe sex. What I find to be the issue, then, is how these school clinics expose teens to sex.

Again, I know that some teens are having sex and the teens who are not know about sex, which is rampant in our culture. There are programs that teach about sex and sexual practices as well, and while such programs may be necessary and helpful in teaching and reminding students about the consequences of sex, they can also go too far in exposing teens and children even younger to sex. If these programs are meant to teach about sexuality, what is a clinic that has free condoms visibly available in the lobby? It no longer is merely helpful or necessary, but rather becomes enabling.

I believe that it is absolutely normal for teens to think about sex and have desires. At the same time, though, I do not think it necessary for schools to perpetuate such desires and encourage sexual behavior, which is what they are doing when they provide handouts. Yes, the article mentions that “teens are told that abstinence is the ‘healthiest choice,'” but it doesn’t seem like a school has much respect for abstinence when free condoms are on display and available for the taking. Teens who may have had healthy desires when it came to sex, but still knew it best to control them and remain abstinent, instead are invited to engage in teen sex because of a school clinic that enables them to do so.

I recognize that certain programs which involve teaching about contraception, when run properly and with parents’ knowledge and consent, may be necessary and helpful. It is normal and natural for teens to have thoughts, urges and desires when it comes to sexuality, and pretending that it isn’t does nothing to solve any problems. Sexual urges can be controlled, however, and teens can be taught responsibility.

Condom usage is good in the sense that it is an effective (though not 100 percent) measure in protecting unplanned pregnancies and disease. There is, however, a difference between reminding teens about the dangers of unprotected sex and the benefits of using protection, and needlessly exposing teens to sexual behavior that they cannot responsibly manage. Teaching teens to be responsible with their decisions ends, though, when handouts of free condoms are provided, thus enabling teens to think that they are entitled to become dependent on others to fund their sexuality.

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