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Under-16 Pill use under attack


Improved sex education has resulted in growing numbers of under-16s taking the contraceptive pill, health experts have said.

More than 1,000 girls aged 11-12 were prescribed the oral contraceptive last year, fuelling concerns among critics that the Pill was being handed out solely for contraceptive use too readily.

However, officials from the Royal College of General Practitioners have rounded on the interpretation of the General Practice Research Database figures, saying the Pill is often prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of other health conditions such as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome.

The figures revealed that three in every 10,000 children aged 11 - and three out of every 1,000 12-year-olds - were prescribed the Pill last year, sparking fears that GPs and authorised prescribers were encouraging children under legal age to pursue contraception without their parents’ knowledge.

But Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said the rise in prescriptions represents an improvement in sex education but not necessarily an increase in sexual activity.

“I believe that the system has improved. There hasn’t been an increase in sexual activity in young girls - this is about girls acting more maturely and seeking advice on contraception,” he said.

His thoughts have been echoed by Dr Petra Boynton, lecturer in international health services research at University College London, who said the Pill is frequently prescribed to alleviate the symptoms of heavy periods, which would otherwise keep children off school and that “media hype” was preventing parents and children from accessing accurate information.

“Taking hormonal contraception is, for many girls, a means of ensuring they don’t miss school. It reduces symptoms that could be painful, distressing and single them out for bullying,” she said.

“When the pill is prescribed for medical reasons usually it is parents, in discussion with their daughters, who initiate contact the GP. Of course hormonal contraception also prevents pregnancy. But being on the pill is not an indicator of having underage sex.”


Readers' comments (10)

  • Who is criticising it? Surely it is better than not using it at all? Providing condoms are used too when appropriate?

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  • er isn't that what its supposed to be used for? maybe all sexually active girls should be on it until they are mature enough to emotionally and finacially cope with a baby. bring back personal responsibility i say!

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  • Do any of these "experts" actually work with children and young people? Are we not delivering a service that encompasses and promotes personal responsibility and choice. It annoys me that services who distribute such contraception are accussed of making the situation worse or even promoting promiscurity. Is the whle of the NHS going to be dragged back to the dark ages!!!

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  • If only it were as simple as increasing sex education. If you actually ask the girls who turn up at family planning clincs why they want to go on the pill they do not give this as an answer.

    Children are sexualised earlier, look at the media! They tell FP workers that sex is expected of them and that it is not "cool" to be a virigin.

    The overall impression is that they are somewhat reluctant but feel pressured by their peers and by boys to conform and not to regard sex as anything more than a kiss!

    We may not like this. (I don't) but it is better to use the opportunity to discuss the downside and to offer some one to one education at this point. Better protected from pregnancy and advised about STD's than turned away to be ignorant and end up with an unwanted pregnancy.

    Perhaps we are not educating properly about sex and maturity. The consequenses physically, emotionally and mentally. We are still failing our youth.

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  • What are we really teaching our children? Several sex partners before maturity. What about the side effect of early exposure to contraceptives?

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  • This is probably controversial, but wouldn't the best form of contraception be to stop rewarding young girls for having children? Stop handing out benefits like they were going out of fashion for every child dropped and introduce a level of personal responsibility back into our younger generations?

    In the meantime we know they will have sex, we know that education is poor. So why don't we celebrate the fact that pill use is up and use this as an opportunity to educate further? If they don't listen then hey, there is only so much we can do.

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  • Anonymous | 5-Aug-2010 12:20 pm

    I agree and also think that what we do as health professionals has limited impact compared to the parenting factor, whether it is lacking, unhelpful or traumatic. Taking away help and support of child mothers will not sway others from having sex and ending up in the same position. The two lines of thought I would argue are not connected.

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  • Aren't we missing something here? I am working with young people in contraception and sexual health services, and we rarely if ever prescribe to under 12's for contraception. There are child safeguarding issues here, no-one under 13 can legally consent to sex. Clearly these prescriptions are for other valid health reasons. Even in these cases it provides an opportunity for us to engage and promote empowerment, delaying sex and then safer sex when the time comes. There is a difference between pill use under 16 and under 13!!!

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  • While in an ideal world the pill wouldn't need to be prescribed to these girls (they'd all be educated enough to know better), I for one am glad that at least SOMETHING is being done.

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  • Interesting comments most along the Daily Mail line here.
    My understanding is that the pill is given for a varity of reasons including horrendous periods and medical conditions eg. pcod. The fact that young women are seeking the pill as a contraceptive needs to be celebrated in part. To have considered the consequences and taken a positive action is showing more maturity than people are giving credit for. There's a lot of jumping to conclusions here which I'm not sure is all that helpful or correct. Maybe people could consider the reasons for that and show a similar level of maturity?

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