Center for Disease Control and Prevention
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are approximately 20 million new STD infections each year, and almost half of these cases pertain to young people between the ages 15-24. Additionally, the cost of STDs to the U.S. healthcare system is around $16 billion annually (Healthy People 2020). STD prevention is an important primary care preventive strategy for improving reproductive health. Even though STDs/STIs come with costs, complications, burdens and the fact that they are easily preventable, they remain a significant public health problem in the United States, and this problem goes unrecognized by schools, policy makers and health care professionals. The push for abstinence based sexual education within schools is not only causing morbidity rates of STDs to rise, but it’s putting our youth in danger. STDs/STIs, as well as numerous other risky sexual behaviors, can be prevented through structured comprehensive sex education courses which describe a wide range of sexual behavior including the use of/information regarding: birth contraceptives, homosexuality, abortion, masturbation, STI/STD testing and how to talk to your partner/family/friend openly about healthy sexual actions.
When comprehensive sexual education programs began to take form, many individuals thought the programs were too gruesome for their children. In support of this theory, in 1996 President Bill Clinton signed into law the “welfare reform act,” which devoted $50 million in funding for programs that focused on abstinence, and since then there has been an influx in federal funding for abstinence-only education programs- shooting up to $167 million in 2005 (Barth,R). Later, Douglas B. Kirby, a senior research assistant, conducted an experiment in 2008 about the effectiveness of abstinence-only education within schools. His research found that abstinence programs are not sufficiently effective to eliminate teens’ sexual risk, and that comprehensive sex education programs can both delay initiation of sex and increase contraceptive use among youth. Within his research he found that only 3 out of 9 abstinence based programs had any significant positive effects of sexual behavior, whereas about two thirds of the 48 comprehensive sexual education programs showed strong evidence that they positively affect sexual behavior, including delaying initiation of sex and an increase in condom/contraceptive use among youth (Kirby,D).
Not only will our youth be healthier with the promotion of comprehensive sexual education programs, but our gross domestic product spent on medical care in the U.S. has the chance to decline. Those who prefer abstinence based programs feel as though STDs/STIs are not life threatening because the mortality rates are in fact low. In 2010 the Nation Center for Health Statistics stated that only 2.7 deaths per 100,000 people were caused by sexually transmitted disease (McElligott, K). What abstinence based sexual education advocates don’t understand is that the reason why mortality rates are so low is because people who contract STDs are typically forced to seek help, and they are then forced to spend money on medical bills to help cure the disease/infection transmitted. The mortality rate is not a representation of the absence of disease, but rather a number that represents the capabilities of medicine, which in turn creates an overuse of our medical technology. It is stated by the Nation Conference of State Legislatures that sexually transmitted infections/diseases costs the U.S. $6.5 billion annually, and this is excluding the costs of HIV/AIDS (Blackman,K.). This amount spent annually can be lowered through changes in policies regarding the type of sexual education programs used school/state-wide.
If you are still not convinced that comprehensive sexual education programs need to be implemented, then take a look at how low the rates are of teen pregnancies are in other countries. Even though teen pregnancy has drastically declined within the last decade, the United States still has the highest teen birth rates in the industrialized world (Blackman,K.). Teenage mothers are more likely to live in poverty, depend on public assistance, drop out of school and be in poor health, and this can result in their child suffering the same consequences. By educating our youth about the consequences stemming from unprotected sex, teenage pregnancy has the possibility to become less common. Although, having children isn’t the only concern, the American Sexual Health Association states that STDs cause 24,000 women annually to become infertile (ASHA). The consequences of risky sexual behavior are prevalent in abstinence-based programs because the youth in these programs have been given no education about the preventions and precautions to take before sexual activity. Robin Barth, A journalist for the AMA Journal of Ethics, states that “Today’s kids are having sex. We cannot control the sexual pressures they face, but we can shape their response to those pressures. We can do so by providing them with factual information about the transmission, progression, and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases”(Barth, R). By promoting comprehensive sexual education, we have a chance to rid of the commonality of STDs/STIs.
Certain school districts have always been under intense pressure to eliminate discussion of birth control methods and disease prevention strategies. Parental individuals within communities force their public schools into urging abstinence as a mean of preventing pregnancy and STD/STIs. Now that we know this strategy does not work, and we know the importance in comprehensive sexual education, what can we do about it in terms of policy? Well, currently laws and policies in 23 states specify that all sexuality education must include instruction about abstinence, only 13 states require courses to cover contraceptive methods, and only 22 states require courses on HIV and STD prevention. (Donovan, P.) Even though these guidelines are in place in some locations, a majority of states/communities have developed guidelines to prevent discussion about abortion, homosexuality and masturbation because they are considered “too controversial”. It is vital that every individual recognizes the importance in comprehensive sex education for our youth, and is well-versed of the laws in their own individual state.
Conversations with our youth about sexual activity can be scary, but it doesn’t have to be. There are an abundant amount of resources out there for parents and teenagers which discuss healthy sexual behaviors and precautions to take. STDs, STIs and teen pregnancy are unfortunately too common in the United States, but by talking about how to prevent these issues together, we can reduce their commonality. By becoming a community activist, and promoting change and deliberation for comprehensive sexual education programs, you can increase the awareness and positive attitudes towards certain programs to generate an overall healthier community.