Time for some late catching up on some irresponsible journalism.
A lot of major news sources picked up on this story last week. The main theme was that there are children as young as 11 regularly taking the pill. That is, the combined oral contraceptive pill used by millions of women worldwide as a form of birth control.
Now, let’s pause to take stock of any immediate reactions you might be having here. If this is new to you, and you find yourself inclined to worry about why kids so young are taking a form of prescribed medication usually intended to prevent pregnancy, then that’s actually quite understandable. I certainly would have raised an eyebrow at that lone fact being presented with no reassuring context. It sounds like a strangely early age for children to be making what seems like a rather adult decision. They’re years away from the legal age of sexual consent, so who’s giving them contraceptives?
However, I would also credit you with enough good sense, natural curiosity, and rational moderation that you probably wouldn’t write a ranting newspaper article about children having their innocence stolen, based solely on this initial reaction. You might, for instance, do some research, find out just how many children of what ages are taking the pill, and for what reasons, and examine the situation in some depth, to see whether there might not be a less dramatic explanation than the complete breakdown of moral society.
In short, I think you’re probably all smarter and better people than Colette Douglas-Home, writing for the Herald Scotland.
After some irrelevantly emotive purple prose about how being young is good, she starts getting to what could very loosely be called the facts of the story.
At least 1,000 British 11-year-old girls are… on the pill. Their doctors have prescribed it, presumably, to spare them a pre-teen pregnancy. Another 200 have contraceptive implants or have long-term injections. They have fully sexualised bodies and the minds and hearts of children. I think it’s scandalous.
Well, some of those things are facts. The basic numbers come from the General Practice Research Database, the accuracy and integrity of which I have no cause to doubt. But you see that middle sentence there, about the reasons for these prescriptions, with a “presumably” attached? The “presumably” indicates what I like to call a “random, uninformed guess”.
Now, some of you may be familiar with a thing called “journalism”. Journalists are people who go and find things out about the world, and then tell people what they’ve found out via an information distribution service such as a newspaper. It’s been around a while, and is quite popular, and you might expect to find some journalism in an article like this on a newspaper’s website.
But it looks like you’d be mistaken. Because, rather than ask any questions or find out anything about the subject, Ms Douglas-Home has “presumed” she knows what’s happening, and just written about how terrible it is.
This is why she’s ended up talking complete crap.
It’s not actually the case that there are thousands of young girls all across the country whose doctors are blithely dishing out contraceptives and wishing them well on their sexual escapades. If you think there’s a story here about cynical grown-ups sexualising children and corrupting our youth by foisting adult experiences on them before they’re ready, then this can only be a sign that you don’t know what you’re talking about.
In fact, oral contraceptives such as the pill can be prescribed to address a number of issues regardless of whether these girls are sexually active, such as menstrual problems, or even to deal with acne. The “presumption” on which the Herald’s moral outrage is based is entirely unfounded.
The reason I know this is because some people have actually done some damn research, rather than leaping straight to wild speculation like much of the media, who are predominantly pouncing over an exciting-sounding story on a hot-button topic that’s bound to get some blood boiling and sell some copy.
Most notably, Dr Petra has written an excellent article attempting to counteract the misleading, unfair, damaging, sensationalistic, sexually archaic, often religiously motivated coverage that’s been much more widespread.
So go read her piece. It’s much more informative than my banging on.
P.S. As a last-minute addition, The Guardian has a good piece on this as well.