Congratulations, Portland, Maine, for voting to provide birth control and counseling about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to middle schoolers. You are no longer a victim of the generational chasm between adults and teenagers. You've admitted what so many deny: teens are sexually active, and we need to help them stay safe and make smart choices.
No matter how innocent we want middle schoolers to be, the truth is that girls and boys aged 11, 12, 13, and 14 years are hooking up, performing oral sex, and having intercourse. Not all of them are, but some of them, and if one student isn't, his or her friends or classmates certainly are. To anyone who disagrees, here's a reality check:
"One in eight youth are sexually experienced, having engaged in intercourse, oral sex or both before the age of 14," the Journal of Adolescent Health reported in 2006. According to the Project Connect study, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
* "9 percent reported ever having sexual intercourse...and 8 percent ever had oral sex (active or receptive)."
* "Of those who reported intercourse, 36 percent were age 11 or younger at first sex, 27 percent were 12, 28 percent were 13, and 9 percent were 14 or older."
* "Alarmingly, 43 percent of sexually experienced participants reported multiple sex partners."
Note that more girls and boys had sex at age 11 than age 12, at age 13 than age 14. If this data doesn't convince you, here are a few more findings. These examples may not be about intercourse, but they illuminate the over-sexed landscape in which girls and boys are growing up today.
One of the girls in Restless Virgins had her first sexual experience in sixth grade -- with sex dice. One die listed body parts (neck, lips) and another listed actions (lick, suck); all she had to do was roll and follow the instructions.
Last October, Tesco, the U.K. mega store, was forced to pull a pole-dancing kit from the toys and games section of its Web site, frequented by moms, dads, and, most importantly, young girls and boys. The toy came in a pink plastic tube, had featured bubble letters and a Barbie-type character, and said, "Unleash the sex kitten inside."
And just recently, we heard that the latest bar mitzvah gift is a blowjob at the back of the bus on the way to the DJ party.
It's all startling to us, too, and we're the ones who just spent over two years immersed in teenage life, listening to guys brag about their sexual conquests and girls convince themselves that they really did want to give that guy -- who didn't call or like her enough -- oral sex. But there's a difference between being startled and being in denial.
Some opposing the Portland decision argue that eleven-year-olds should not be given birth control without a parent's consent. It's a fuzzy line. Of course parents should be involved in their children's health care. Of course they should know whether or not their sons and daughters are having sex. It's easy to tell adults to talk with teens about sex, but it's another thing to actually do it.
The generational chasm we mentioned above is very real and very wide. We get it: a mother may not want to admit that her 12-year-old daughter is having sex in her boyfriend's basement after school. But that mother needs to know this is going on. So what about girls and boys whose parents don't know -- or don't want to face -- their children's sex lives?
Thank goodness for Portland, Maine.
Providing birth control to sexually active middle schoolers is a crucial step. Condoms and the pill don't protect against STDs, but they will prevent girls from getting pregnant and lower the risk of transmitting many diseases. Providing counseling is just as critical. As we discovered, teenagers know about STDs and condoms. They've had sex ed. They're familiar with the Rolodex of ramifications, and younger girls and boys need to be, too. And what all of them need is education about the emotional consequences of their sexual behavior.
How will you feel after giving a guy, who's not your boyfriend or even your friend, oral sex?
Do you really want to hook up with those two guys, at the same time, while another friend watches? You do? Okay, why?
These are tough questions, but they're not asked enough, if at all. Girls and boys are coming of age in a culture that's saturated by sex. They're affected by this culture, and they need the tools to make the right decisions. This isn't about religion or moral judgment. This is about protecting young people who are already engaged in sexual behavior. Thankfully, girls and boys in Portland, Maine, will now have access to birth control and counseling, and therefore be more equipped to make smarter and safer decisions about their sexuality. It's time for other school districts to wake up and take notice.