The 2007 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which monitors health risk behaviors among ninth- to 12th-grade students in the United States, found that 42.4 percent of Connecticut high school students have had sexual intercourse and 31.8 percent are sexually active. Of those students, 37.3 percent reported not using a condom during their last sexual encounter.
With more than one-third of all sexually active state teenagers not using condoms during sex, we need to mandate sexual education in public high schools and teach students about safe sex; this will arm them with the information and knowledge to make healthy sexual decisions.
Connecticut does not require public high schools to offer sexual education. A sensible bill that would have mandated sex education in all state school systems failed in the last General Assembly session. If a school chooses to offer sexual education, however, the state suggests a curriculum but leaves content up to each district. Even though the state mandates that information about sexually transmitted infections and AIDS be taught, it does not stipulate any specific content.
Considering that there are some states with very few policies regarding sexual education, Connecticut isn't the worst. But just as obesity has become a growing issue among our nation's youth, the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections is also increasing and states should take action to reduce the number of adolescents at risk.
In 2006, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 5,259 teenagers and young adults age 13 to 24 years old were diagnosed with human immunodeficiency virus or AIDS; this was 14 percent of all the people diagnosed that year in the U.S. In addition, about half of the 19 million sexually transmitted infections that are contracted annually in the U.S. affect this same age group. The majority of these cases probably could have been prevented if these adolescents were told of the risks of unprotected sex.
Unfortunately, there is no way to eliminate the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections or becoming pregnant besides abstinence. But it appears an educational model that solely focuses on abstinence is not working. Therefore, public high schools should offer mandatory sexual education, which includes teaching contraceptive methods -- especially because condoms (one form of contraception) can significantly reduce the risk of infections and pregnancy. Students should be taught how to use these and other contraception methods correctly.
Connecticut law allows parents to take their children out of sexual education programs at school. Parents should be given this option, especially if they believe sexual education programs in school conflict with their values. But in those cases, parents should teach and educate their children about sex at home. Some information may be difficult to discuss with your children, but having your teenager diagnosed with an infection or becoming pregnant would be far worse.
Even though the 2007 risk behavior study found that state high school students are at equal risk for sexually transmitted infections when compared with average U.S. students, Connecticut should be actively trying to reduce its teenagers' risk through education and policy changes.
We cannot solely rely on parents to educate their children about sex and contraception, and the public education system can play an active role in disseminating this information. By arming Connecticut's teenagers with accurate information, they can make safe and healthy decisions when considering any form of sexual activity.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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