A research team from Johns Hopkins University recently conducted a study looking at awareness of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers. They found, among other things, that less than a quarter of male teenagers receive any kind of information from doctors about safe sex (the article can be found here). These findings are not explicitly about girls, but girls inhabit the wide chasm between teenage boys who are aware of safe sex practices and those whose doctors haven’t addressed this pressing issue.
I wish this wasn’t an issue at all, because I believe teenagers lack the maturity to understand all the consequences of sex or even to enjoy it. Yet the fact is that teenagers have sex, and both partners need to be aware and prepared in order to remain healthy. But if boys aren’t being told all the facts by their doctors, who should be their most accurate and complete source of information, then the burden of safe sex falls unfairly on the shoulders of girls.
Just think about the costs associated with safe sex: birth control pills can cost up to $70 (though the average price is between $15 and $50) a month without health insurance. The pill only protects against pregnancy, not against diseases. Add condoms into the mix and a girl buying her own birth control could potentially spend close to $100 a month. If only the girl in a relationship is aware and taking responsibility, sexual health becomes pretty expensive–especially considering that this girl will probably make less money than her boyfriend in her lifetime.
Besides the financial costs, a lack of awareness among boys can also take an emotional toll on girls. There is already a lot of stress placed on teenage girls, including peer pressure, keeping up in school, and applying for college. Making girls bear the entire burden of safe sex is unfair, particularly if they are pressured into sex or forgoing birth control.
The study’s authors praise the medical system for being “really set up to serve women” but I don’t think that’s true. It seems that doctors, whether consciously or not, are reinforcing a system that creates unequal responsibility.
Girl Museum Inc.