Massachusetts Condom Controversy: How Young is Too Young?

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Simmer down — the Provincetown, Mass. school district taking heat for its decision to give out condoms to students who request them from a nurse or counselor — without parental permission — did not, in fact, plan to give condoms to seven-year-olds.

Here’s the thing: It seems school district didn’t limit their policy to middle-school and high-school students because they never expected someone to ask if they intended to give condoms to kindergartners. Beth Singer, school superintendent, said, “We were never giving condoms to elementary school children. It’s for sexually active people, and we don’t see that as relevant to elementary school.”

‘Nuff said, right? Not for some.

The on-going firestorm caused Gov. Deval Patrick to intervene and now the district will likely limit access to condoms to students in the fifth grade and up.

But some are still upset because they say giving condoms to students “should be a parent’s decision.” Right. Because 16-year-olds commonly ask their mommies for rubbers. Parents, we all know forbidding teens from doing things doesn’t work, so if your kid is going to get busy in the back of a pick-up truck — regardless of whether they should be or whether you approve — given the choice, wouldn’t you rather they used protection?

Oh, right. You’re going to say that giving students condoms plants the idea of having sex in their heads and thus encourages them to do the deed. Because teens with raging hormones haven’t thought about it on their own, right? Dr. Eugene Beresin, a professor at Harvard University and director of training in child and adolescent psychiatry had this to say: “There is no evidence, that I know of, that educating children about safe sex encourages sexual behavior. If you told kids about the risks of suicide, it doesn’t promote suicide.”

A key justification for the policy is this: students have to meet with a nurse or social worker to obtain the condoms, which provides an opportunity for the adult dispensing the condoms to ask some questions about the students’ decision as well as provide education materials, including those on abstinence. As Singer said, “It can be a teaching opportunity. You can go to a drugstore and buy a condom and not have that conversation.”

And, finally, some food for thought: it’s disturbing and so very, very wrong to think about a young child asking the school social worker for a condom, but if they are asking, maybe they actually need to be having that conversation with a counselor.

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