When it comes to sex, America’s culture is like a perpetual adolescent. Our sitcoms offer a steady diet of jokes about threesomes, strippers and penises, we use sex to sell beer, and we have restaurants themed around women’s breasts.
Yet many of us are loathe to have serious, honest conversations about sexuality with our kids or our parents. A 2009 study published in the journal “Pediatrics” found that 40 percent of teens have sex before their parents get around to talking to them about safe sex practices, birth control or sexually transmitted diseases.
Luckily, there are some grownups who aren’t embarrassed by sexuality and are big on responsibility. Planned Parenthood is there for the young woman who can’t tell her parents that she’s become sexually active and for the young man who is afraid he has HIV.
The Susan G. Komen Foundation found out the hard way last week that there are lots of women and men who are grateful to Planned Parenthood for providing everything from low-cost birth control to breast and cervical cancer screenings to testing for sexually transmitted diseases.
A few facts are in order:
-- Ninety-five percent of Americans have sex before marriage, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
-- American and European teens have similar levels of sexual activity. But European teens are more likely than their U.S. counterparts to use contraceptives and use the most effective methods so they have much lower pregnancy rates.
-- More than 99 percent of women ages 15-44 who have ever had sex have used at least one contraceptive method, according to the Guttmacher Institute. A quarter of the more than 20 million women in the U.S. who get birth control from a medical provider get it from a publicly funded family planning clinic.
Often that clinic is run by Planned Parenthood. The local affiliate, Planned Parenthood of Northeast and Mid-Penn, has nine medical centers serving 19 counties. These are some of the services the organization offers: gynecological exams, pap smears, birth control, emergency contraception (Plan B), pregnancy testing and pregnancy options counseling, adoption referral, abortion services, cervical and breast cancer screenings, and testing and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases for men and women.
Of the more than 30,000 patients served last year, about half obtained contraception. Thirty-six percent have incomes below the poverty line and all the fees are on a sliding scale based on income, according to Development Department Manager Andrea Dolak.
At Planned Parenthood of Northeast and Mid-Penn, less than 2 percent of its services are abortions; for Planned Parenthood nationwide it’s 3 percent. Most critics say it’s the abortions they object to. But if that’s true why aren’t these opposition groups setting up competing clinics all across America offering low-cost contraception and STD testing but no abortions?
On the other hand, I think the Obama administration is wrong to require Catholic hospitals and universities to cover contraception in their health insurance plans for employees. The line separating church and state is always a tightrope but no one is required to take jobs at those institutions and leaving contraception out of their benefits plans violates no one’s civil rights. The church shouldn’t be forced to go against its official doctrine in order to continue to provide health care or higher education in this country.
That the vast majority of Catholics ignore the church’s teaching on contraception is beside the point. Let them take it up with their church. Meanwhile, there’s Planned Parenthood. Thank goodness.