Hart: Hormonal birth control and 15-year-olds. Seriously?

Scripps Howard News Service - Our culture has abandoned the protection of our girls. That, of course, has huge implications for the well-being of our boys, too.

As a mother of four -- including three girls, ages 11, 14 and 16 -- few things scare me more.

This week, the Food and Drug Administration ruled that girls as young as 15 can get the Plan B One-Step (or so-called morning-after) pill without a prescription, or even having to go to the pharmacy counter. The pills are not designed to abort, but to provide emergency hormonal contraception following unprotected sexual intercourse.

A report in a recent edition of the journal Pediatrics says that about 14 percent of teen girls have had sex by their 15th birthday. While some find that number low, I find it shockingly high.

In any event, the FDA decision would be silly if it weren't so serious. These are girls who cannot work without a permit, can't drive a car by themselves, can't choose to drop out of school -- or, in many cities and towns, avoid a legal curfew. We don't trust them to make good decisions about any of these things on their own.

(By the way, unless a girl brings a passport to the drugstore, she's not going to have ID to show she's 15, as school IDs typically show only a girl's current school year, not a birth date. So even this ridiculous age "limit" will be abused.)

Yet FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg said in a statement: "The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly, and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease."

Are they serious? These young women weren't responsible enough, if that's the right terminology, to use birth control before sex, but we have no worries that they will use it properly afterward?

Putting aside the health issues, here's an even bigger problem:

Is it really likely that a 15-year-old girl -- a child -- is seeking out full sexual intercourse in the first place? Or is it more likely that her fantasies revolve around romance and kissing, petting, being told she's beautiful and loved?

Well, the data backs up what we know intuitively: According to a Guttmacher Institute report published in late 2011, 60 percent of girls who had first sex at the ages of 15 to 17 either didn't want it to happen at all or had mixed feelings about it. Sixty percent. For boys in that age range, that number is only 34 percent. That's still significant, but yes -- duh -- there's a difference between men and women, and young men and young women, when it comes to sex.

Do the math. Do you think there's some pressuring going on here?

Also significant, an older Guttmacher study says that when it comes to girls 15 to 17 years old, some 30 percent of the time their sexual partners are three to five years older. (Though this particular subject matter has not been revisited by Guttmacher since its late-1990s report, there is no reason to think the cultural trends have changed.)

Now let's put all this together.

Most women who experienced their first sex at those ages say they were NOT eager for the experience -- they had mixed feelings at best -- or didn't want it at all. The data show that their sexual partners, sometimes several years older, were much more likely to be eager for the experience. So when sex happens, that, of course, suggests that seduction or even pressure is in play.

That's one thing for adults to deal with. But children?

Instead of protecting these girls and giving them the tools they need to walk away from sexual activity they are not fully ready for, we've just abandoned them yet again. We've created a culture that encourages the notion that this is what they should "want." A culture that tells boys their girlfriends should want sexual intercourse. We've allowed these fellows to be able to say to a 15-year-old girl, "Don't worry. You can run over to the drugstore in the morning!"

But 15-year-olds are children, and when it comes to sex, girls are even more vulnerable than boys. We have a responsibility to protect all of them. To help parents find ways to know what is going on in the lives of their kids. To let them turn to us for help. By letting a girl who can't get an antihistamine at the drugstore get birth control after a sex act she didn't -- by definition -- plan for with all that that means, we adults are acting like, well, children.

Of course, that has huge implications for our kids.

(Betsy Hart's latest book, "From The Hart: A Collection of Favorite Columns on Love, Loss, Marriage (and Other Extreme Sports)," has just been revised. Email hartmailbox-mycolumn@yahoo.com.)

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