The teens and birth control debate

Nov 9, 2010 at 10:33 a.m. ET

Does teaching teens about birth control promote promiscuity? That is at the heart of this debate. Most parents want their teens to be educated about sex and birth control options, but fear that by talking about it they are in fact encouraging them to have sex. Experts and real parents weigh in on this hot topic.

Teen and birth control choiceYes – Teach them about birth control

"Abstinence hasn't worked for thousands of years as a reliable way to avoid teen pregnancy," says Wendie A. Howland, editor of Journal of Nurse Life Care Planning.

"We all know that healthy adolescents are engineered to reproduce and that's why the sex drive is so strong in them," says Howland, who recommends What's Happening to My Body Book. "If you make it all matter-of-fact (which, come to think of it, it IS, literally, a matter of fact) you get kids who know what and how reproduction works and know what to do."

Dr. David Rivera, MD, FACOG, wholeheartedly agrees. "As a doctor who deals with teenage pregnancy and also as a parent, HELL YES!" he says. "Hormones take over, and teenagers screw like rabbits given any opportunity, and they are adept at finding opportunities. If you think teaching abstinence will prevent them from having sex, be prepared to be called Grandma or Grandpa. I made sure my boys knew how to use condoms. When I found out my daughter was sexually active in college, I asked her point blank if she was using something. Teenaged sex has been around as long as there have been teenagers."

Birth control is not condoning sexual relationships, but trusting your children to make good choices for their bodies and their future, says sex therapist Amy Stewart. "Abstinence programs often disempower teens to make decisions and are primarily fear-based, focusing solely on intercourse. This allows teens to skirt the issue by performing/receiving oral or anal sex, while keeping 'virginity' intact.

"These can be dangerous behaviors with increased risk for disease, and significant emotional impact. Teens are going to learn information about sex with or without the parents, but the parents have the potential to guide them in the right direction," say Stewart, who says that paired with condoms, birth control pills can prevent pregnancy.

N0 – teach them abstinence

Licensed psychotherapist Linnda Durre, Ph.D., says that most teens are not emotionally ready to handle sex and that teaching abstinence is an important option. "It's a dilemma -- you want to protect them from pregnancy, yet in some ways you are condoning or acknowledging that they're having sex, which most of them are. STD's and AIDS can be lethal, so you want to protect them by encouraging condom use. The pill for girls will protect them from pregnancy yet it has had failures and women can get pregnant. The pill will NOT protect them from STDs and AIDS."

Laurie Gray, child advocate and attorney, says that condoms should not be freely distributed to kids who cannot legally engage in sexual acts. "The age of consent varies from state to state and is about as clear as mud," she says, stating that in Indiana, for example, no one age 13 or less can consent to sex with anyone.

"I do think that teens who can legally consent to engage in sexual activity need more information and access to condoms through parents, guidance counselors and/or health professionals who are prepared to talk with them about their proper use and why abstinence is preferred for young adults. "

Lindsey Isham, a self-confessed 31-year-old virgin and author of the book No Sex in the City, says teaching abstinence is best. "Spare you and your daughter the drama, emotional insecurities that come from having sex outside of marriage, bad reputation, broken dreams, unrealized potential, etc… and invest in your daughter. Let her know what love really looks like and why she is worth waiting for!"

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