Free Condoms for 12-Year-Olds?

This week, the Springfield School Committee gave a first-step approval of providing their 12-year-old students with free condoms and counseling for students. And seeing as Springfield has the fourth highest teen birth rate and second highest rate of STD infection in Massachusetts, it’s easy to see why this is a good idea — but the policy has yet to pass through a second round of approvals.

To show you why I think this is a great decision, I want to tell you about British shag bands …

When I was first teaching high school students back in the U.K., the students were wearing these “shag bands”. (“Shag,” as Austin Powers fans will know, is Brit slang for having sex). Shag bands were thin, plastic bracelets that came in an array of colors. Each eleven or twelve year old student — usually the girls — would wear, say, five or more.

Well, during this fad, I was a new teacher, so I was thrown when I kept finding broken colored bands on the floor at the end of class. When I asked a colleague what they were, he told me the rules of this horrible game: if a boy breaks a girl’s shag band, he explained, she has to sleep with him.

You can imagine my panic! I began to ban shag bands, and so did other teachers. But we started finding them on the playground, on the street, in the bathrooms, in the hallway, always snapped. When the students couldn’t play in the classroom any more, they took the game elsewhere. Did every broken shag band result in sex? I hope not, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

Do we want 12-year-olds to not have sex? Whatever our answer, it’s a moot point. Twelve-year-olds will have sex. They’ll have sex because, at their age, it’s taboo. They’ll have sex because they want to be adults. They’ll have sex because they’re rebels. They’ll do it because they’re studying Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, in which the star-crossed lovers who’d also be underage today, have sex that changes their lives. And what do responsible adults do when they have sex?

They take precautions.

Our kids are not yet adults. So when they have sex — which they do and will — they need some adult support. That said, do we want them to have access to condoms and counseling? A big “Yes, please.”

So, thank you, Springfield. I applaud you.