News has broken that a 13-year-old girl has had an implant inserted at her school in Southampton without parental consent, and the country has been plunged into yet another taboo-fraught half-conversation about the morals of underage sex.
It has taken the British press a long time to reach the realisation that the under-16s do, in fact, have sex. With condoms, without condoms, with the Pill, without the Pill... And now with the implant.
I have always been of the wake-up-and-smell-the-strawberry-flavoured-condom party - underage teenagers are having sex, so we might as well help them make it safe. Some say that dishing out free condoms to the underage may encourage them to have sex when they weren't otherwise thinking about it. As valid as this argument is, the truth is that, with our overtly sexualised society, our malicious love of peer pressure and our primal homo sapien instincts, chances are they are. Chances are, from the minute Jack told the class he had sex the other night, merely two weeks after that awful video on 'Growing Up', and when everyone saw Emily had underarm hair during PE on Monday, your teenager has been thinking about sex.
The consequences of no contraception are STIs or pregnancy. The consequence of untreated chlamydia is infertility. The consequence of obtaining herpes is a lifetime of sores and medication during flare-ups. The consequence of teenage pregnancy is botched life plans, rejection from society, responsibilities no child should even be forced to consider, or, if you prefer, abortion, with all the psychological traumatisation and baggage that can produce in anyone, let alone one so young.
The consequence of offering underage teenagers contraception are that they might consider a fact of life a bit earlier than they might otherwise have done... and that you eradicate the possibility of all the above.
The mother of the girl in question has taken the news very well, unlike many parents would. The argument that is neglected time and again in defence of the Fraser Guidelines - the legal schpiel that allows underage sexual health and contraception patients the right to confidentiality - is the unsurprisingly-not-much-talked-about existence of abusive parents. Some girls, upon telling their parents they are considering having sex will be given a hot chocolate, a friendly listening ear, an anecdote of personal mistakes and lessons learned, and a leaflet on multiple contraceptive options. Others will be ignored. Or told they're a slut. Or hit. Or raped.
As the 13-year-old girl who caused all this fuss wisely told the British press, "some children just can't speak to their parents [about sex]". In all their outrage and disgust, I would urge people to swallow their pride and accept some wisdom from those younger than them, and consider the kids who can't talk to mum and dad about sex, let alone, God forbid, tell them that they're pregnant. Before you claim, outraged, that your 13-year-old should want a teddy and not an implant, please consider the girl getting an implant, avoiding pregnancy, and getting it confidentially, avoiding a black eye, or a broken rib.
The mother has said: "This is a step too far. To perform a minor surgical procedure on school grounds without parents knowing is morally wrong." As any intuitive reader will note, her foremost complaint about the procedure is that the implant involves minor surgery - the breaking of skin, the use of local anaesthetic - which should entail the notification of a parent when performed on a minor. Not once does the mother express unease at the contraceptive nature of it, and, as readers of the few and far between articles that have presented rather than obscured the argument will know, she goes on to say she is "proud" of her daughter's actions.
And why shouldn't she be? The girl, when interviewed, has proved to be a very bright, very smart girl with very considered views and opinions. And her mother has highlighted a crucial difference between the implant and most other forms of contraception. The implant involves minor surgery. It sounds like it might be really quite painful (although, with the use of local anaesthetic, it's not). Girls who have it come out with bandages on their arms. All in all, the implant sounds, as I would have said at 13, GROSS.
And no 13 year old girl is going to take up the offer of a nurse inserting a 4cm rod under the skin of her arm lightly. Any 13-year-old who goes ahead with this is going to have thought it through - I imagine quite hard.
And that is where the implant differs. It is not the Pill, branded as simple and easy and pain-free. It is about as appealing to teenage girls as vaccines - and anyone who ever went to any British school will still hear in their nightmares the blood-curdling screams of a group of year 8 girls being told today's the day they have their Tetanus booster.
We need to realise the dangers of offering contraception to those who, in an ideal world, shouldn't need it. But we need to understand that, in our imperfect, overtly sexualised, sometimes morally lacking world, they do need it. And they need our help, our support and our vow of confidentiality if they so require it. I'm willing to back providing that. Are you?
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