Birth control in the schools

The school board in Portland, Maine has voted to allow prescription birth control to be distributed in the Middle School Health Center without parental permission or notification. Parents will need to give permission for their children to access the Health Center Services, but will not be informed of what services they receive there. In addition to birth control, the Center provides immunizations and a number of other general health services.

Bravo to them!

From the Times article:

“It has been shown, over and over again, that this does not increase sexual activity,” said Pat Patterson, the medical director of School-Based Health Centers.

Reaction was mixed.

“This is really a violation of parents’ rights,” Peter Doyle, a Portland resident, told the committee. “If there were a constitutional challenge, you guys would be at risk of a lawsuit.”

Others argued for approval.

“Not every child is getting the guidance needed to keep them safe,” said Richard Veilleux, who said his child attends King Middle School. “This is about giving kids who are sexually active the tools that they need.”

I am so delighted to see that these adults are taking responsibility for educating our young people and working to keep them sexually healthy, even though they may not agree with the young people’s sexual choices.

Too many parts of our society seem to be bent on punishing, rather than educating, young people who engage in sexual activity. Sometimes they do this through omission of facts and information and health care services, and other times they do this through lies and verbal abuse, moral and religious holier-than-thou lecturing.

Recently, Amanda Marcotte of RH Reality Check wrote a very insightful, moving piece on this very topic called “Of Sluts and Punishment.” She talks about how we seem to be in this never-never land of accepting “punishment” in the form of pregnancy, STIs, and cancer, for sexual activity, or rather being a “slut.” She goes on, in top from, to say:

With all this interest in sluts and the punishing of them, definitional issues are bound to arise. What exactly is a “slut?” What is “promiscuity?” Karen Malec might define a slut as someone who gets married after the end of her adolescence, but most people would have a more lenient definition of that. Is every woman who has an abortion a slut? What if she’s married and has three kids already? Are you a slut if you have premarital sex at all, or just with a certain number of guys? These are not idle questions–if one is advocating the idea that sluts get punished by law, custom, or cosmic justice, it’s important to know what a “slut” even is. Only some breast cancer and depression can be traced to prior sluttiness, after all. You have to have a measuring stick to determine who deserved to die of cervical cancer and whose case of HPV was just a case of bad luck.


Or consider this fascinating blog entry from Debbie Schussel, where she declares lower back tattoos on women to be “tramp stamps”, writing, “But, as I’ve written, a woman who doesn’t take long to agree to repeatedly put a needle in her body, generally doesn’t take long before she acquiesces to putting other things into her body.” I think she’s referring to the P-E-N-I-S, which brings up another question about evaluating sluttiness–we all know you get docked purity points for diversity, but what about frequency? If “other things” in the body is what measures the slut, it seems possible that a monogamous woman who has frequent sex with her husband might qualify as a slut, even if he’s the only man she’s ever slept with? Debbie is too busy snickering at sluts, who of course are always some other woman, to address this taxing definitional issue.

I highly recommend reading the entire piece.

So what do you think? Do you think that young people who have sex deserve some kind of cosmic or legal punishment? What about middle schoolers to receiving prescription birth control without specific parental consent? I think it is the right thing for people of any age to receive sexual health care without parental consent or notification. But I’d be interested in hearing the arguments from people who disagree with me.

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.


  1. I agree with this in theory – young people need access to good information, and, if they are going to be sexually active, contraception.

    But I still have trouble getting over the hurdle of middle school kids having sex.

  2. I think middle school kids should have access to condoms, but not prescription birth control. I would be outraged if someone put my 12-year-old on a drug that can cause major depression.

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