A response to Michael Petrilli

So Michael Petrilli wrote about IUDs. I’m a big fan of  IUDs. They’re the reason I’m a non-parental taxpaying educator. And after reading Petrilli’s post, I have a request: Sir. Please stop talking about birth control and teenage pregnancy. I understand you have good intentions. I can see how your idea makes great sense to you: Want to reduce pregnancy? Teach high school students about the most effective way to reduce pregnancy. I get it. It’s a great idea.  But I’m asking you to stop talking. Demur, defer, elevate, and support instead.

Your staff was almost right – “nobody wants to hear a middle-aged man, much less a Republican, talk about birth control.” The problem is, though, that’s exactly who we do hear talking about birth control. From Congress to the courts, middle-aged men have always been talking about the right way for girls and women to handle their bodies.  Your suggestion, and your chart, adds “the classroom” to that list. 

Purity Pledges, pregnancy shaming campaigns, abstinence-only sex ed – all ideas that originated with and were advocated by middle-aged men; men who spoke from a position of authority and privilege, such as yourself. This isn’t to say middle-aged men can’t have great ideas. After all, hormonal birth control was invented by a middle-aged man (although funded by a woman.) However, when it comes to this issue, it’s worth re-considering how you add your voice. It’s likely there are a few challenges to your plan that may not have occurred to you. 

  • Schools are just now starting to realize the sexism inherent in the dress codes that tell girls what to put *on* their bodies and you’re advocating they tell them what to put *in* their bodies? Consider the long history of middle-aged men policing young girl’s bodies and appearances, especially for girls of color. Does your post add to that policing or help end it? Additionally, does your post help end stereotypes about who becomes a teenage mother or support them?
  • Parents are afraid to give their children shots that will LITERALLY prevent cancer because of a perceived connection to sex. How would the IUD message succeed when pediatricians can’t get parents over HPV vaccination fears?
  • In order to work, an intrauterine device (I noticed you didn’t use its full name) has to be inserted inside the uterus. Waaay up inside. To be sure, gynecologists go out of their way to reduce discomfort, but getting one inserted isn’t as simple as a shot in the arm. It’s invasive. Consider the impact this has on girls who have been abused: you, a middle-aged guy suggesting they get an IUD because you think it’s the best form of birth control.
  • IUDs are hormonal. The act of introducing hormones for most girls and women is a non-issue and can result in a reduction or elimination of menstruation. For a few, it can have the opposite effect and result in multiple visits to the doctor to resolve. Consider the impact this has on girls who can barely talk to their parents about menstruation, much less changes to it based on the introduction of an IUD.

And please do not mistake me. This is not about IUDs themselves. Like I said, I’m a fan. They’re fantastic. They’re safe. They’re great for all of the reasons listed in your links. Nor is this about sex ed. I, like you, am an advocate of providing all public school students with comprehensive, accurate, and thoughtful information about reproduction and human sexuality.

This is about inviting you, a white, male, middle-aged “Republican who supports preventative sex ed in schools,” to defer. You said it’s “an issue which nobody is talking about.” I say: You’re not listening. Defer to the women and girls who know this issue better and see the tension in you telling them how to handle this decision.

Defer to women like Gloria Malone, who is a young mother and blogs about her experiences.

Demur to groups like Futures without Violence who do important work around the issue of reproductive coercion by teenagers in abusive relationships.  

Elevate The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy because, as their title implies, they’ve figured out what works and need help getting the word out. (And in case you missed it, they did a really interesting study on how young Republicans feel about contraception.)

Support and call for others to support Planned Parenthood who has extensive information about IUDs and teenagers and is doing the hard work of getting safe, medical care to those who need it.

Defer, demur, elevate, and support instead. There are plenty of problems in education, Michael, and many of your ideas are interesting and compelling. This one, though …. any solution you come up with will be limited by your experiences. As a middle-class, white, male Republican, show the young women of America you’re different. You’ll be the kind of Republican that elevates their voices and solutions to the challenges they face, not the kind that lectures down at them.


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