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Sex Ed News Round-Up: Florida, Rhode Island, Virginia, Washington, and more...

Rachel Hart,
Reproductive Freedom Project
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July 19, 2006

Florida: It seems that taxpayers in Volusia County, Florida, are paying a lot of money ($180,551 to be exact) so that middle schoolers there can take virginity pledges, according to an article in the New Journal. The article notes that Volusia County schools do not teach about contraceptives in high school health education classes and that if a student asks about contraceptives in class the teacher will refer him or her to their parents or physicians. It goes on to say that high schoolers may have even less sex education in the future as the state legislature has made health classes an elective starting with the 2007-2008 school year.Rhode Island: An editorial in the Providence Journal takes on the idea that the HPV vaccine will give teenage girls the green light to have sex.Virginia: Here’s another article about the recent grant that a local crisis pregnancy center in Virginia received to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Last week I featured an article that talked about the grant and problems with the “Why kNOw” curriculum. Today’s article says that the grant is already being used to teach abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Greene, Fluvanna, Orange, Louisa and four other area counties and the center wants to expand the program into Albemarle public schools by spring.Washington: The Chronicle reports what happens when students go without comprehensive sex education. Public Health officials in Okanogan County, Washington, want teens to learn about the symptoms, transmission, and prevention of STDs after a growing number of reported cases of STDs in Omak.

[The Director of Community Health] said over the past year Omak alone accounted for nearly 50 percent of all the newly reported cases of STDs in youth throughout the county. She said the Omak School District has offered some classes to sixth- and eighth-graders, but high school students have not had access to a classroom-based comprehensive sex education program… “STDs are going through the roof,” said Jones. “Kids have to have the facts. Some people are concerned this is a religious or moral thing, but the issue is education.” … Jones said in Okanogan County some 11-year-old girls are being diagnosed with STDs and some 14-year-old girls are pregnant.Public health administrator Paul Waterstrat said he and Jones talked to Omak School District officials in 2004 about offering a sex education class, but they rejected it because some parents felt they, not by health officials at a public school, should share the information.According to Okanogan Family Planning director Lenore Whitecar, unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases remain a concern in Okanogan County. She attributed the problem to what she sees as a lack of sex education in schools and the long distance many people must travel to get birth control.

The New York Times reports on the national debate between supporters of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs versus comprehensive sex education as viewed through the failure of the Healthy Teens Act in New York state. Two of the bill’s sponsors have great quotes:

“I look at this as a father and an uncle,” said Nicholas A. Spano, a Republican state senator from Westchester who sponsored the Healthy Teens Act in the upper chamber, while Richard N. Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, did so in the Assembly. “I have two children. I’m the oldest of 16 children. I have 34 nieces and nephews. And why should we not teach our kids in an age-appropriate way about sex education? Abstinence could be part of the curriculum, but not the whole curriculum.”

The article notes that while rates of teen pregnancy and STD transmission have declined in the last ten years as the prevalence of ab-only programs has been on the rise, recent research reveals troubling findings:

While teenagers who took virginity pledges as part of abstinence-only programs started sexual activity later and had fewer partners than did other peers, they were just as likely to contract sexually transmitted diseases, the scholars concluded. These young people also tended not to use contraceptives if they became sexually active, and engaged in oral and anal intercourse in the belief such that activity did not violate the virginity pledge.

Apparently Dear Abby agrees that teens need complete and accurate sex education. She writes in her column:

Parents who leave sex education up to the schools should be aware that since 1996, the federal government has poured $1 billion into abstinence-only sex education programs that do not include complete information on birth control methods or even sexually transmitted diseases.

And finally, SIECUS has released the third edition of SIECUS State Profiles: A Portrait of Sexuality Education and Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs, the most comprehensive document of its kind detailing sexuality education and abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in states and communities.

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