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Did my stepmother lie to me about my right to birth control?

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Audrey asks:

I would appreciate a little light shed on my question, it puzzles me greatly. I asked a good while ago if I could start on Birth Control, and my father actually wouldn't mind, in fact, he supports it. My stepmother, on the other hand, doesn't seem comfortable with it. Despite the obvious discomfort, she said she'd call her doctor and see what she could do. Days later, she told me they won't take anyone under 18. This confused me. I know many teenagers on Birth Control. I hope she's not just saying that, although it wouldn't be the first time she did something rather similar to that. At first I got the feeling that she thought I would change if I was on the pill, like I was invincible and I could never get pregnant, so I can have sex whenever I want. The thing is, I'm not sexually active, I'm a virgin. I often get the feeling she thinks I'm a tramp. I would NEVER think in that fashion. So, my question to you, do you have to be a certain age to consult a doctor about Birth Control? And although I'm only 16, would that be my personal choice to take the pill? Or do they have a say in it until I'm a legal adult?

Heather Corinna replies:

While some doctors may choose not to see children or adolescents in their practice, period -- because they just don't specialize in that group -- it sounds far more likely your stepmother was simply being dishonest with you.

If her doctor was someone who chose only to see adults, he or she most certainly would have given her a reference for you to see another doctor.

You do not have to be a certain age to talk to a doctor about anything at all, including about contraception. You also do not have to be a certain age to obtain methods of contraception from a doctor, and the only place there would be age limitations would be for methods which a doctor felt were not good choices for someone your age. For instance, Depo-Provera isn't always a good choice for very young women because of bone mass concerns. IUDs often aren't comfortable for women who have not been pregnant before. Most doctors will not approve permanent sterilizations for young adults. In addition, while a parent certainly has the right and the ability not to pay for your birth control they do not have the right to keep you from obtaining it yourself or using it. It's solely up to you, and in your control, as to whether or not you acquire and use methods of contraception.

I don't know what the overall dynamic is like in your home beyond this situation, but it sounds to me like this is something you should talk to your stepmother herself or your father about. If one or both of them do not want you using birth control, you deserve a candid, forthright discussion about why, rather than to be manipulated or lied to. If one of them is supportive of you in this way and the other is not, as co-parents, they need to work that out amongst themselves or with you like grownups. It seems like it might also be helpful to address those ideas you think she has. Ideally, she'd have been the adult here and done that with you, but you're becoming an adult, too, and can go ahead and take the wheel of that discussion if she has not.

If you do want to call this out, what I'd suggest is just asking for a family meeting, or for time to talk to whichever parent you want to talk to.

I'd calmly explain that you're aware that teens do not have to be 18 to obtain birth control, and that you feel you may have been deceived. I'd ask if that was the case, then ask why if your stepmother admits she was not truthful. I'd also state that you feel like you have a right to be communicated with honestly, and that if one or both of them has an objection to you using birth control, or helping you get it, you deserve to be part of a real discussion about that. Again, be calm, and be an active listener. The high ground here is yours, so keep it. Even though either of them does have the right to prefer not being part of getting you contraception, you still deserve the respect of just being told that outright, and you still have the right to obtain it on your own and know that's something you'll need to do for yourself if one or both of them doesn't want to help or support you in it. You might find that this link for parents about talking to teens in regard to contraception is helpful for you, or may even be something you want to print out for your family.

If that's not a conversation you want to have, or you don't want to confront one or both of them on this, know that you can go see a sexual healthcare provider on your own. I don't know what country you're in, but in most areas, you can do that by either scheduling a visit with your family doctor yourself (you don't specifically need a gynecologist for this: most general physicians provide pelvic exams, STI testing and prescribe contraception), or by visiting a general or sexual healthcare clinic, like Planned Parenthood here in the U.S. or Canada, or through independent public clinics. If you're not sure what's available in your area, you can use your local phone directory to find out, or ask a friend who she sees for her birth control and sexual healthcare.

However you get to a healthcare provider for contraception, you may find it handy to inform yourself about methods in advance so that you can have some idea of which might be best for you, and know what your questions about any method may be so you can be sure to ask them. So, have a look here for that information, and good luck in working this out.

written 19 Apr 2008 . updated 17 Jul 2008

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