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Government policies have encouraged irresponsible sexual behaviour among children

Giving girls as young as 13 the contraceptive Pill without their parents’ knowledge is yet another hugely misguided policy. Time for a change of approach?

By on Wednesday, 9 May 2012

An NHS trust has suggested that pharmacists should be able to give the contraceptive pill to teenagers without their parents' consent (PA photo)

An NHS trust has suggested that pharmacists should be able to give the contraceptive pill to teenagers without their parents' consent (PA photo)

Should girls as young as 13 be given the Pill by pharmacies without their parents’ knowledge? This recent item in the news has been given a reasoned and sensible answer by Norman Wells, director of the Family Education Trust, in the Times. Reading the points he argues makes one stand back and look at the way society now treats our young people – and to be appalled by it.

As Wells points out, in the past there were many restraints on underage sexual activity for a good reason: sex, as society once realised, was linked to bonding, babies, the raising of children, providing for them and establishing a family. Cut free from such links unrestricted sexual behaviour would mean social mayhem – the situation we are now in. Wells cites all the ways that society has systematically turned against the wisdom and caution of previous generations:

• Explicit sex education at ever-younger ages in schools which has undermined the natural caution of young children
• Turning a blind eye to “the age of consent”
• The ready availability of contraception and the “morning-after” pill
• Confidentiality policies that mean young girls need not worry about their parents’ response – a brake on behaviour for earlier generations

As Norman Wells points out, to make the Pill available to girls under the age of 16 at chemists’ outlets would save them the embarrassment of having to see a doctor; in other words, sexual licence at an even younger stage of emotional immaturity would be encouraged.

I know the Government states that these hugely misguided policies will lower the statistics of teenage pregnancies but I do wonder if ministers really believe this. All the evidence is against them and always has been. As Wells indicates in his article, research published in the Journal of Health Economics in 2011 concluded that schemes to provide emergency birth control to under-16s at pharmacies did not cut teenage pregnancy rates and “led to increases in diagnoses of STIs”. So not only are we encouraging teenagers to engage in irresponsible sexual activity but we are also making it more likely that they will have long-term problems of infertility at a later stage when they want to settle down and start a family.

Is this what the Government really wants for young people? To engage in sexual relations when they feel like it, as long as they are “protected”, without any regard for the possibility of damage to health, physical and mental? Wells concludes his article: “If health authorities are interested in reducing underage teenage conception, abortion and STI rates, they should look for ways to discourage young people from engaging in sexual activity. The last thing they should be doing is fuelling the flames of a sexual health crisis with schemes that treat parents, the law and basic moral principles with contempt.”

I am intrigued by his use of the phrase “basic moral principles”. What are these and who, outside older people or those who have a religious framework to their lives, understands them anymore? It suggests we all agree on certain broad moral assumptions – such as that sexual activity should be discouraged in schoolchildren because they are too volatile, impulsive and immature to understand its repercussions. But we don’t.

People shake their heads when this subject comes under discussion and say “It’s too late. You can’t turn the clock back”. You can’t reproduce the conditions of society 50 years ago; that’s true. But you can still learn from enduring lessons of the past. If you are the Government, with the power to enact laws for the protection and good of the citizenry, you could at least be honest enough to acknowledge that the sexually permissive policies of recent decades have completely failed our teenagers and that it might be time to explore alternative policies.

Peter Maurin, the friend and idiosyncratic mentor of Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker newspaper in the States, used to say that laws are in place to encourage people to avoid the bad. Our society positively encourages our youth to do the opposite.

  • theroadmaster

    There is a direct correlation between the rise of abortions, divorces, teenage pregnancies over the last 4 decades and the widespread use of the Pill, even if fashionable opinion-makers side-step these realities.  The Pill in effect facilitated the “sexual revolution” from the 60′s onwards, as without it, it would have had limited success.  In a sense, it cheapened the value of sex, and encouraged couples to indulge in what they viewed as consequence-free liaisons.  

  • ms Catholic state

    How do the Police know  anything?!  It is reported.  And when boys and men know that sexual activity with an underage girl will be prosecuted…they will think twice.  And our children will be given some protection at least…NOT contraception. 

    The Church should be criticising secular society’s attitude from the rooftops..while proposing Chastity instead!

  • theroadmaster

    Who are we to determine who lives or dies?  The nazi regime euthanized millions of children and adult who did not fit their “aryan” model.  Is this the type of mentality that you want to promote in society?  The present obsession with producing “designer” babies, is a benign version of this sort of thinking.

  • JByrne24

    I replied to this post yesterday (11 May), but my posting has vanished.
    If the management can find it, and put it below theroadmaster’s above comment, I would be grateful.

  • karlf

    What a horribly twisted reading of my comment! 

  • Fourth norn

    Harm minimisation policies have unintended consequences and freely available contraceptives have instanced this. Like abortion, it’s become a zone of amorality in the public mind. If people can’t even see the issue, then there’s no chance of having a reasonable (let alone a rational) discussion of it. Leaving aside a bad public policy (that, JByrne24, is what it unquestionably is) the wonder of all this is the ethical and historical illiteracy produced by 50 years of progressive education. Hegel had a good idea of where moralitat was heading when he criticised Kant. Historically, there is something to pay heed to in laws promoting self-restraint rather than undermining it. It’s not that one should give a toss for this society but that we have a primary obligation to care about the welfare of the young. JByrne24 does seem to care, but in the wrong way: caring for the sexually active 13 year old (once the exception) leads to a distortion of public policy that makes ALL 13 year olds more vulnerable. That is a disgrace. There are no two ways about this: harm minimisation has failed, there is no way to avert individual tragedies through public policy, but we owe more to our youth than the past 50 years of ‘critical’ education have given them. 

  • susan

    How is a girl of fifteen do sex, and then what about the responsability if she gets pregnant, even if you take pills it can happen, then what, ABORTION KILLING HER OWN FLESH AND BLOOD, or  HAVING THE BABY WHICH AT FIFTEEN IT SPOILS YOUR LIFE OR GIVE IT TO YOUR PARENT, WHICH IS NOT FAIR, ALL THAT JUST FOR A FEW MINUTES OF SEX, GIRLS BE CARFULL AND WAIT TILL U GET MARRIED WITH THE ONE U LOVE AND MAKE LOVE WITH THAT SPECIAL PERSON AND NOT SEX.

  • theroadmaster

    But the implication of what you are saying, is that it would be better that children with an infirmity or physical disability should not be born.  Nobody in their right mind want children to suffer but unfortunately some babies are born with serious genetic disabilities and conditions.   They must be accepted as people of infinite worth and integrity.