By the end of this year, Gannett (and every other health clinic or pharmacy in the country) will dispense the morning-after pill with no prescription necessary. This new policy has been met with some controversy, both on campus and nation-wide.
Opponents of the FDA’s new guidelines are concerned that if young people have easy access to emergency contraception, they might begin to use it as Plan A rather than Plan B, engaging in unprotected sex and relying on the morning-after pill to prevent pregnancies.
Supporters of the policy argue that kids who used condoms before won’t stop now just because another option is available over the counter. Easy access to emergency contraception, they say, is a positive stride toward preventing abortion and unwanted pregnancy.
Nina Cummings, Health Educator for Gannett, predicts that widespread availability of the morning-after pill will actually have a positive impact on students’ sexual health. To argue that easy access to Plan B will lead to more unprotected sex, she says, is to imply that women are essentially irresponsible and don’t care about their bodies. According to Cummings, the opposing standpoint highlights a double standard in sexuality. You don’t hear people expressing concern about the reckless sexual activities of men very often, but when women are given the option of taking the morning-after pill, suddenly people start to get worried about reckless sex.
Each side makes a valid point. Plan B should absolutely be available over the counter at Cornell, but only under the condition that we implement a mandatory sex education program for students.
We can’t withhold an effective form of birth control simply because it might affect sexual recklessness, especially when past studies say it likely won’t affect people’s behavior at all. So why not have an extra precaution like Plan B at our fingertips? It’ll prevent unwanted pregnancy and hopefully abortion.
However, the opponents of easy-access have reason for concern and shouldn’t be ignored. The availability of Plan B is certainly a good thing for birth control, but its effect on disease control is unknown. Past studies do show that people’s sexual behavior does not generally become more reckless as a result of the birth control that’s available. But past studies may not predict the future so accurately. We’re dealing with a different generation now; one that can’t remember a time when there wasn’t a quick-fix for unwanted pregnancy or a broken condom. Granted, emergency contraception has been available at Gannett for nearly 30 years, but never has it been so easy (and acceptable) to obtain.
If we’re going to make multiple methods of birth control widely accessible at Cornell, then we also need to up the ante on STI prevention and education. Few people separate the risk of pregnancy and the risk of disease in their minds when they engage in sexual activity. Most don’t even know the differences in how to prevent the two, or they do know but don’t act accordingly.
Maybe you’re thinking: “She’s not talking about me. I know the difference, clearly. I’m not an idiot.” No, you’re not an idiot. But when was the last time you used a condom while performing oral sex? I’d venture to say never. No one does because you can’t get pregnant from having oral sex, so why use a condom? However, we can get STIs from oral sex, and yet we still don’t use condoms. So you tell me: what is it we’re really worried about, birth control or disease control?
Our priorities clearly lie in protecting ourselves against pregnancy, and STI transmission has taken a back seat. But herpes and HPV — the two most common STIs — can be transmitted even without intercourse. This means all students (gay, straight, bi or other) are at risk and need to make disease prevention an equal or greater priority. The only way that will happen is through education.
The Sexual Health Awareness Group (SHAG) at Cornell is on a mission to do just that — educate. This group of Cornell students attends educational presentations by local physicians, nurses, Planned Parenthood and Gannett to go out and teach their peers about contraception, STIs and sexual assault. It is now mandatory for the new member class of every sorority and fraternity on campus to sit through a presentation given by SHAG. I sat through it two years ago and thought it was great. People asked insightful questions and SHAG members were able to provide helpful answers. It wasn’t a preachy lecture because the information came from our peers who understood our position. It was the most effective form of sex education I can think of and should be mandatory for every incoming freshman at Cornell.
Granted, sex education has already been mandated at public high schools, but the quality of that instruction varies widely from school to school. Cornell is a progressive institution and should take the matter into its own hands by authorizing its own form of sex education. And who better to educate the student body than fellow students?
Easy access to the morning-after pill was a positive and progressive change, but now disease prevention should become our primary concern. The only way to approach the issue is by teaching safe sex. No glove, no love … we need to spread those words far and wide.
Missy Kurzweil is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be contacted at email@example.com. Don’t Miss Out appears Thursdays.