This week’s Friendly Debate with the Danielles is about whether or not you should provide birth control for your teen daughters. My daughter is only 8 weeks old; I won’t be dealing with this issue for a long time, but I already know my answer: absolutely not! I could answer this question from a faith-based perspective, but instead, I’m going to use this as an opportunity to share my own personal experiences taking birth control as a teenager because I believe that even if you put faith completely aside, birth control is not a healthy option for teens.
I started taking birth control when I was 12 or 13 years old for “heavy and irregular” periods. I put that in quotation because, while they were heavy and irregular, most young women who have just started menstruating need a year or two for their cycles to regulate. I never had that chance. My mother took me to the doctor who referred me to a gynecologist. My appointment was about five minutes long, during which the gynecologist said that I needed to go on the pill and that there was a good chance I would have difficulty having children. I won’t go into the devastating effects of the second statement except to say that it was completely unfounded and caused me great anxiety until my daughter was born healthy just a few months ago. As for the prescription of birth control, there was not discussion of the potential side effects or other possible treatments. My mother and I left believing that there was something innately wrong with my reproductive organs, that the only treatment was birth control pills, and that it was a medication without risks or side effects.
When I look back on that appointment, I do so with great anger. Why was the doctor so quick to prescribe birth control? Why didn’t she discuss the side effects with me? Over the past few years I have been angry with my mother as well. Why didn’t she ask about the risks? I was too young to make the choice myself, so I depended on my mother to make the decision for me. Thankfully, I am no longer angry with her and I know that there are many other mothers in her position. She took birth control herself for many years and was never warned about any health risks or side effects. She also was raised in a time when a doctor was never questioned. While I hate that birth control is now being peddled to women in TV commercials, I think that the required “side effects spiel” is a good thing because women are becoming aware that there are side effects and some of them are potentially life threatening.
That appointment was the beginning of over 10 years of birth control. Every year or two I would return to the gynecologist because my birth control was no longer “working” and would be prescribed a new type. I was on the pill, the patch, the ring, and even shots during that time. There was one thing they all had in common – dangerous side effects. And certain risks, like that for certain cancers, increase the longer you take it.
Had I known about all these risks and been able to adequately evaluate my need for them, I would have never started taking the pill in the first place, especially since I didn’t actually have any real need for them. When my husband and I became engaged, I decided stop taking the pill because we wanted to remain faithful to the Catholic Church’s teachings on birth control when we married and started having sex. However, knowing that the Church allows birth control for medical reasons, I acknowledged that if my periods were too heavy or painful, I would have to return to the pill. After a few months, once the birth control hormones were completely out of my system, I was shocked to discover that my periods were regular and, while perhaps heavier and longer than most women experience, were still in the range of “normal”. I had taken birth control for years, lived with the side effects (which for me, included mild depression), and increased my risk for cancer for no reason!
As a mother, I do not want to give my child unneeded medication with some pretty nasty and dangerous side effects unless it is absolutely necessary. Teenagers are unable to make such serious decisions without the guidance of an adult. There is a great deal of research that suggests that teenagers’ decision-making abilities are not fully developed, especially when it comes to making choices regarding long-term risks and consequences (such as the risk for cancer 20 years in the future).
But what about sex? Although it wasn’t specific, I assume this debate was framed in the context of giving your teenage daughter birth control to prevent pregnancy. I often hear the argument that providing birth control for your daughter does not condone sex, and while I may agree with that statement, I will say that it makes it a whole a lot easier.
Because I was taking birth control pills for a medical treatment, I was never under the illusion that my parents condoned sex. Even if my parents had given me birth control as a “just in case” measure to prevent teen pregnancy (which they never would have done), I would have known that they disapproved. However, the fact that they put me on birth control would have told me that they had low standards for me; either they had little regard for my self control or they believed that sex was so tempting that is was impossible to resist. Those certainly aren’t lessons you are to impart on your teen daughter regarding sex. Actions speak louder than words, and what you do usually trumps what you say.
Being on birth control made it much easier for me to have sex. So much so, that I ended up having sex the first time the opportunity came up and I did so with the conscious thought that I was already on birth control so it wasn’t a big deal. Had I not been on birth control, I certainly wouldn’t have had sex that night. Even if the young man had a condom, I would have said no, because I believed that they were less effective (which they are). I’m not saying that I never would have had premarital sex had I not been on birth control, I’m just saying that I would not have rushed into it and that my first time having sex would have been a much more informed decision. I would have had to decide to get birth control, make a visit to the doctor, and take the pills for an extended period of time before having sex. Perhaps it would have prevented me from making such a disastrous choice (and it was truly disastrous because it marked the beginning of a two and a half year relationship with a very abusive man).
When I was first prescribed birth control, my father was very upset. He didn’t want me on birth control because he didn’t want me to think that I could have sex when the opportunity arose. Both my mother and I assured him that that would never happen and that the birth control was necessary. We both thought he was just being a little overprotective. And he was. But that was his job as my parent, as my father (no, this is not just an issue for mothers!). His fears were warranted. He was right to believe the way he did and I wish he had fought harder for it.
I write this, not as a mother, but as a young woman not much past her teen years. And as this young woman, I beg you, be informed, be open with your child, and have high standards for them. Even if they don’t want to, they depend on you to make the right decision for them.
How do you stand on this issue? Join the debate and link up your opinion at Friendly Debate with the Danielles.
See my response to other Friendly Debates with the Danielles topics:
See my response to other Friendly Debates with the Danielles topics: