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Compulsory Sexual Education

By Gary Bell

December 24, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recently released its report on Sexually Transmitted Diseases for 2011. Sadly, there are few surprises. With a total of 1,412,791 cases, Chlamydia trachomatis infection remains the STD leader. This figure is the largest number of cases ever reported to CDC for any condition and represents an increase of 8.0% compared with the rate in 2010. The national gonorrhea rate increased as well after over a decade of fluctuation and/or decline. However, the greatest concern about the "clap," as we used to call it, is its increasing resistance to the medications commonly used to treat it, cephalosporins and azithromycin.

Syphilis, which we once actually believed could be eliminated, continues to thwart those efforts. Although the 2011 rate remained unchanged from 2010, it continues to grow in MSM and, now, women. With other STDs such as HPV, trichomoniasis and herpes also showing consistent increases, the overriding conclusion that one must draw is that we continue to experience this epidemic of preventable diseases.

The most troubling aspect remains the disparities in race and age. Younger minorities continue to be disproportionately affected by STDs. Which brings me to my main point: the need for compulsory sex education in schools. A recent report by the Guttmacher Institute highlights the information gap:

  • One in four adolescents ages 15-19 received abstinence education without any instruction on birth control or disease prevention.
  • 46% of teen males and 33% of teen females receive no formal instruction about contraception before the having sex.
  • Of older teens, ages 18-19, 41% said that they knew little or nothing about condoms and 75% say the same thing about the birth control pill.
  • Only 21 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education.

See the disconnect here?

With STD rates rising in children, especially minority children, over half the states don't require education to prevent STDs, or unwanted pregnancies. I understand that discussions about sex education in school are like the proverbial "third rail," because parents feel that they should be the ones providing the information. The problem is that many don't do it and others are poorly informed. While the Guttmacher report states that parents are considered an important source of information on sexual health for teens, it adds that their knowledge may often be inaccurate or incomplete. The report also fails to mention the number of children who are not living with their parents, such as those living with other relatives, in foster care or in group homes.

The bottom line here is that this belief system that sex education should remain at home isn't working. As there is no evidence to support that sex education promotes more sexual activity (most parents greatest fear), then it is time that we have a substantive dialogue with parents to allay their fears and gain their support. Legislators, too, should be more assertive in passing legislation to mandate it. It's time that we address this issue before more young lives are ruined.

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See Also
Quiz: Are You at Risk for HIV?
10 Common Fears About HIV Transmission
More News About Sexual Education


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Transition to Hope

This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.

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