October 29, 2010
Figures from the New Mexico Department of Health's Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey show about 43 percent of San Juan County teenagers report having had sex, compared to 48 percent for the state overall. However, San Juan students who are sexually active are less likely to use contraception compared to teenagers statewide, and the county ranks second-highest in New Mexico for STDs, the data show.
The state requires school districts that teach sex education to cover HIV and other STDs, and most stress abstinence. Farmington schools follow the state guidelines for sex education, said Superintendent Janel Ryan. Cathy McDonald, the schools' nursing coordinator, said Farmington focuses on abstinence but does not cover contraceptive techniques.
The failure to provide teens with sex education that includes information about contraception is one of several factors contributing to high STD and teen pregnancy rates, said Dr. Linda Gorgos, infectious-disease manager for the state health department.
"We would need information and feedback from parents should [sex education] become something we need to meet on and make changes to our policy," said Ryan. "My personal opinion is that if you would ask that directly to parents they would say [contraception] is our responsibility, that's not the school's responsibility."
Beyond the issue of sex education, poverty and other factors are greater contributors to the high rates, said Susan Lovett, program manager for the family planning division at the state health department. New Mexico has the nation's second-highest number of teen pregnancies, Lovett said.
"There is not one specific thing, there are always other factors," agreed Gorgos. "But if you don't have all the information, it's hard to make the best decision."