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Editorials and Commentary

Kids Need Straight Talk About Sex

February 28, 2002

". . . The secretary of state, Colin Powell, in responding to questions about HIV from teens around the world, said: '. . . In my own judgment, condoms are a way to prevent infection -- and, therefore, I support their use . . . among people who are sexually active and need to protect themselves.'

"We heard a huge outcry from the religious right that condoms will not protect against all STDs -- they will break or slip off. And Powell's statements went against the administration policy of 'abstinence only' until marriage.

"The mean age of marriage is 26 years, while the mean age of puberty is 11.4 years. The fact is that 93 percent of men and 80 percent of women are not virgins on their wedding night. How can protecting the health of the American people -- especially the young, the poor and the underserved -- be against administrative policy?

"We are spending a quarter of a billion dollars for abstinence education in our schools, when there is no scientific basis that abstinence-only education is effective. Abstinence education as it is presently taught does not allow our educators to tell young people anything about contraception or disease prevention.

". . . There are about 12 million problems with this approach -- 12 million being the number of sexually active teens in this country who are 19 or younger. . . . Yes, condoms can break, they can slip off, but they are still the best protection that we have available. I commend Secretary Powell for speaking openly and honestly to the world's teenagers and demonstrating knowledge of the problems we have with regards to sexual health.

". . . No sexuality education program has ever been found to increase sexual activity or to encourage students to engage in intercourse at earlier ages. In fact, comprehensive sexuality education delays first intercourse, reduces the risk of teenage pregnancy and reduces the number of sexual partners.

"The politicians and health officials could do much more to improve sexual health in our country. We could provide comprehensive health and sexuality education in our schools -- from kindergarten up to 12th grade -- as opposed to teaching abstinence only. We could increase funding for family planning.

". . . Our statistics show that the vows of abstinence break more easily than latex condoms."

The author is professor emeritus at the University of Arkansas and a former surgeon general of the United States.

Back to other CDC news for February 28, 2002

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Newsday (New York)
02.28.02; Dr. M. Joycelyn Elders

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.