A recent study in the September issue of the California Journal of Health Promotion estimates that in 2005 1.1 million new cases of STDs occurred among people aged 15 through 24 in California. Jon Mendelson, a columnist for the Tracy Press out of Tracy, California, examined what the local school district is doing to educate students about sex and preventing STDs. (Tracy is located in San Joaquin County which reported 27,407 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the study.) In his column, Mendelson found that from fourth through twelfth grades the centerpiece of the school district's instruction is "just-say-no-to-sex" -- a theme that he says doesn't match up to reality:
Abstinence is the only 100 percent-effective way to avoid STDs and unplanned pregnancy. It's also cheap and easy to use, and kids do face an enormous amount of pressure from Madison Avenue to be too sexual too early.
That said, making "safe sex" and contraceptives a bigger part of the district's curriculum couldn't hurt.
People are wired to have sex. It's how we're built. The reality is that teens are going to have sex whether we want them to or not. And how we teach kids about human sexuality should reflect that.
Mendelson's column attracted quite a few comments from both sides of the debate. You can check them out at the bottom of the article.
Last week, the Florida-based program, A New Generation, approached the superintendent of Pasco County schools in Florida for permission to hold abstinence-only-until-marriage assemblies in the county's middle and high schools. The St Petersburg Times wrote today that school officials are unlikely to accept the program noting that the local schools currently offer "a more comprehensive and well-rounded course than what A New Generation could provide."
In Illinois, the Knox County Health Department held a sexual health town hall meeting last week to open up a dialog in the community on how to best prevent the spread of STDs. A doctor on the Knox County Board of Health called for "a comprehensive plan" to combat the spread of STDs. The Health Department's goal is to continue these conversations in future town meetings.
Meanwhile, while some communities are taking steps forward others are heading the opposite direction. School officials at Topeka High School in Kansas have put a stop to a month-old program where the school nurse provided free condoms to students. If the message boards on the Lawrence Journal-World & News, which reported the story, are any indication this issue is controversial to say the least.
And the debate over contraception in schools continues in Maine. As I reported last week, a middle school in Portland, Maine, has come under national scrutiny for approving a plan that would make birth control available to students. One of the local school committee members has submitted a resolution that would give parents the option to block access to prescription contraceptives if they enroll their children in the King Student Health Center.
And finally, the Star Tribune in Minnesota reports that last month state officials turned down $500,000 in federal abstinence-only-until-marriage dollars. The state had been accepting federal funding since 1998 for its sex education program Minnesota Education Now and Babies Later. However, when the federal government recently changed its rules for grantees stating that they must teach 12-29 year olds that sex outside of marriage was psychologically and physically harmful the state officials decided not to ask for future federal money.