UC San Francisco researchers posed the following question to parents: “If your teen’s doctor found out your daughter was having sex, is it acceptable or unacceptable to you for the doctor to provide birth control to your teen confidentially?” Participants were asked to rank their comfort level with each contraceptive method — including birth control pills, condoms, emergency contraception, a birth control patch, or an IUD — on a scale from 1 to 4. Oral birth control had the most support from parents at 59 percent, condoms came in second at 51 percent, and Plan B got 45 percent. But the IUD ranked dead last, winning just 18 percent of respondents’ approval.
That could be because parents worry about IUDs having a lasting impact on their daughters’ fertility, an issue with the contraceptive method in the 1970s that is no longer a problem today. Adults may have also bought into the misguided idea that long-lasting birth control somehow gives license to promiscuity, since it protects against pregnancy for an extended period of time. But medical experts are working to dispel the stigma surrounding IUDs — the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology already encourages doctors to offer teens long-lasting forms of contraception, since they’re the most effective way to prevent unintended pregnancies.
But even more generally, the results from the UC California study underline the fact that adults aren’t as comfortable with addressing teens’ sexual health as they need to be. “The lower than expected acceptability of condoms likely reflects parents’ overall low acceptability of contraception in general for their daughters,” the lead researcher of the study told the Atlantic. But considering the fact that U.S. teen birth rates remain much higher than the rates in other developed countries, it’s more important than ever that young adults across the country are able to access the reproductive resources they need.
And ultimately, the study speaks to larger societal issues surrounding sexuality, perhaps even unintentionally. The fact that researchers focused entirely on parents’ attitudes toward teenage girls, without addressing the fact that teenage boys also have a role in practicing safe sex and preventing pregnancy, reflects the fundamental gender-based imbalance in the way society approaches sex.