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Schoolgirls Taking The Pill: Why Do We Find It So Hard To Swallow?

06/01/2011 16:18 | Updated 22 May 2015

I can still remember the day I went on the pill. I had just turned 18 and I sat shiftily in the doctor's waiting room, certain that everyone knew exactly why I was there.

I almost died of embarrassment when I came face-to-face with my GP, who had treated me since childhood.

And I was mortified when I handed the prescription to the pharmacist, who also happened to be my school friend's mum.

Even though that was almost two decades ago, I'm sure the process is equally excruciating for today's teenagers - especially those who are under the age of consent.

So I was interested to hear that pharmacies on the Isle of Wight have launched a pilot scheme which enables girls over the age of 13 to get the pill over the counter, without seeing a doctor - or telling their parents.

Given that the UK has the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in Western Europe, it's clear that teens are having sex whether we like it or not.

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, 41,325 girls under the age of 18 fell pregnant in 2008 - and 7,577 of those were under 16. So surely improving access to contraception can only be a good thing.

But it seems that not everyone shares my opinion.

Religious groups immediately denounced the move, calling it 'irresponsible' and campaign groups said it would encourage girls to be more promiscuous and put them at risk of rare, potentially dangerous, side effects associated with the pill.

However, the scheme has the full support of health secretary Andrew Lansley, who said: "We always are clear that patients have a right themselves to access healthcare on their own cognisance if they are competent to do so."

So if the health secretary is willing to accept that most teenage girls are able to make mature decisions, why are so many others quick to treat them like easily led, oversexed idiots who are incapable of behaving responsibly?

Yes, in an ideal world, girls wouldn't be losing their virginity before they sit their GCSEs. And those that do want to go on the pill would discuss it with their parents first.

But given that good sex education is seriously lacking and many girls don't feel that they can talk to their parents about sex, schemes like this represent a valuable safety net.

Most newspaper reports have played down the fact that the Isle of Wight scheme offers just one month's supply of the progesterone-only pill, otherwise known as the mini-pill, usually to girls who visit the pharmacy to buy the morning-after pill. This is known to be the safest of all the oral contraceptives and, when the supply is used up, girls will have to visit their GP to get more.

For the most part, these girls are already having sex - either without contraception or with unreliable contraception that has failed. Offering them the pill isn't going to encourage them have sex, but it might help them avoid an unwanted pregnancy.

Every parent wants to protect their child - and no one likes to think of them growing up too fast or keeping secrets. But where teenagers are concerned, surely secrets and sex go with the territory.

Increasing the availability of the contraceptive pill isn't giving underage girls the green light to become sexually active, and I would argue that having the foresight to organise contraception shows a level of maturity and independence that should be commended, not criticised.

It's the girls who don't have the opportunity to access contraception that we should be worried about - and that's precisely why the Isle of Wight scheme should be rolled out nationwide.

By: Ceri Roberts

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