Friday, 2 November 2012

Sterilizing our children

This week there have been two articles worth mentioning in the news about contraception and teenagers.

The first is from the Telegraph and gives the details of girls as young as 13 being given contraceptive implants (effective for 3 years) and injections (3 months) at school, or in clinics, without parental knowledge or consent. First of all, I believe that patient confidentiality is essential, regardless of the age of the patient. However, confidentiality is intrinsically tied to consent: the person consenting is entitled to confidentiality. All medical treatment (legally this includes contraception - Medicines Act 1968) requires informed consent, and those under 16 can only give informed consent if they are deemed to be Gillick competent. Competence varies with every individual and intervention and I do not believe that any teenager, however smart can be deemed to be competent where a long-acting contraceptive is concerned. We see enough adults who struggle to conceive after years on the Pill; I cannot see that a teenager, who is unlikely to be considering the probability that they will one day want to have a family, would be able to give informed consent. Actually, come to think of it, there probably aren't many adults capable of giving fully informed consent to such an intervention, but unfortunately we aren't subject to the same criteria. If you are consenting to contraception, that assumes that you are consenting to sex, and that requires a level of psychological and spiritual maturity, not just intelligence. As such, not being competent, they cannot consent and therefore they are not entitled to confidentiality.

Secondly, we have an age of consent in this country which is 16. Why do we bother if promiscuity is going to be encouraged in this manner? Who are these 13 year olds sleeping with? Granted, there may be a small proportion who seek contraception as a badge of honour (a GP I knew who also worked in a Family Planning Clinic told me that she was somewhat plagued by teenagers who wanted contraceptives for the purpose of having them rather than using them), a rite of passage if you will. But given all the concerns over internet grooming and child abuse should we not be asking more questions? Teenage girls are not usually interested in boys their own age; even if a girl is 15 and her boyfriend is 16 that is still illegal.

This strategy is derived from the desire to decrease the incidence of teenage pregancy (I get it) at all costs (I don't). Given the current rates of STDs, especially the chlamydia epidemic, why aren't we thinking outside the box? What we need is a culture of openess: parents should not be their childrens' best friends or their worst enemies, but children should be able to talk to their parents. And the only guarenteed way to prevent pregnancy and STDs is through abstinece and I do not think we can promote abstinence without teaching young people about their own intrinsic dignity. Of course we have a problem in that we are now in the 2nd generation of permissive behaviour, the belief that freedom is all about doing what you want when you want, and the total absence of God which leads to seeking value in pleasure.

The other article states that girls are choosing the pill over condoms. Around 2006, the student newspaper in Manchester published the results of a survey which found that female students didn't want to go on the pill because they didn't want to be considered "easy". (It also discovered that a significant proportion of students believed that it was not possible to conceive whilst standing up, which says something about the level of education they had received, but I digress.) This suggests that they were not considering the pill because they were already in a sexual relationship but because they were expecting to have what I think could be termed 'random' sexual encounters. Someone who knows you is not likely to be judging you on being easy.

What am I bothered about? Well, firstly, these articles are about girls. No-one is talking about boys. Granted there are not so many contraceptive options available to them, but it appears that the current strategy is completely targeted at young women, and comes from an anti-life basis rather than the promotion of health and well-being. There was recent outcry when it was proposed that girls be taught abstinence. I agree that it is rather ridiculous, because boys also need to know about their dignity and worth (and sadly, teaching only one half of the population about abstinence would likely lead to an increase in the use of prostitutes). It could be argued that girls choosing these longer-acting forms of contraception are sleeping with their long-term boyfriends. But I think it could equally be argued that actually what is happening, extrapolating from the prevailing attitude of Manchester undergraduates, is that at least some girls are effectively sterilizing themselves in the expectation of casual sex. It is time that sex education was based on something real (anything! but preferably good anthropology) rather being completely out of context and taking sex out of context. Bring on existential sex education.


  1. Our society is very confused about consent. Some of the failed carers concerned with recent child abuse have said they did not intervene because the sexual activity "was consensual". For an under-16 this is a legal impossibility, he/she is deemed incapable of consent. Hence the offence and the basis on which it should be dealt with.

  2. I agree that there is a lot of confusion: personally I think it's really important to make the distinction between "consent" and "fully informed consent", because consent could be (is) interpreted in many different ways. I am not a lawyer, and I don't know how carefully "consent" is defined in law, but previously there has been some disagreement in allegations of rape over whether someone who is extremely drunk can consent. Some people seem to understand consent as anything on the 'right' side of "not actively protesting".


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