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Sex Lives of Teens: The New 2012 Campaign Issue?

As the mom of a ‘tween, I’ve had to come to grips in the last year with having “the talk” — or at least age appropriate parts of  “the talk” — with our daughter that were necessary as a result of the reproductive system unit in science class.   Fortunately for us, she thinks that whole idea of how babies get made is gross and disgusting and as far as I’m concerned, I hope she feels that way until she’s 35!

Interestingly, though, a few candidates for president are using some of the issues surrounding the nascent sexual awareness of pre-teens, and the health issues that go along with that, to win voter support and that’s got me a little irritated.  You see, I thought it was my job as a parent to worry about the birds and the bees and everything that follows, and that it was their job to tell us how they’re going to fix the economy, get us out of Afghanistan and do something about $4 a gallon gas.

First, GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann thought it would help to her campaign to attack her opponent Texas Governor Rick Perry and his decision to require that 11-year-old girls in his state receive the vaccine for human papillomavirus, the sexually transmitted disease that causes cervical cancer.  Aside from her short-lived belief that the vaccine causes what she called “mental retardation,” she also used the opportunity to appeal to her base by saying that she’d protect “little girls” from those forced government shots that many conservatives are opposed to because they believe it promotes pre-marital sex.  (It’s recommended that the three-series vaccine begin at around age 11, not because of sexual activity, but because of the time needed to build up immunity against the virus).

The Democrats have their own teen sex issue, as well.  The Food and Drug Administration recently recommended that the Plan B contraceptive pill, also known as the “morning after pill,” be available without a prescription to girls 18 and under, a decision based on research concerning the safety of the pill.   But for the first time in history, the Secretary of Health and Human Services overruled the FDA, ordering that the current restrictions for that age group remain in place, calling the research the FDA relied on into question.  President Obama says he supports the HHS decision, adding that as the “father of two daughters” he believed some “common sense” should be applied to whether or not teen girls should have access to Plan B.

So why do I care about this? Well, to address the President’s remark, as the mother of one daughter, I think I have some pretty good common sense when it comes to her health and at what ages she’s ready for information or treatment regarding her reproductive health.  And as someone who’s had a brush with cervical cancer who is now grappling with if and when my own daughter should be vaccinated to prevent that cancer,  I can do that without any candidate believing that my family or my sixth-grader need their protection.

I usually believe that all issues ought to be on the table for debate when it comes to candidates, but I take exception when those who are trying to woo voters think it’s fair game to put our kids’ personal lives and our private family decisions into their political playbooks.

So do you think it’s fair for politicians to weigh in on these issues or should they keep their noses out of parenting decisions that concern our children’s health?

Joanne Bamberger writes the blog PunditMom and is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (on sale now at Amazon!), a bipartisan look at how women online are changing the world, just in time for the 2012 election.

Image via Flickr/George Eastman House Collection

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