Health education that consists of only an abstinence-only message has disturbing consequences. By depriving teenagers of access to information about their health and bodies in schools, it makes them vulnerable to STD/s and unwanted early pregnancies. The problems of censoring sexual health education are reflected in a recent report released by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The report notes that positive trends in American teenagers’ sexual and reproductive health—declines in teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases—during the 1990s through 2005 have reversed in recent years. Some of the more alarming findings:
• Birth rates among adolescents had been decreasing annually from 1991 to 2005, but increased from 2005 to 2007, from 40 to 42.5 live births per 1,000 females.
• The annual rate of AIDS diagnoses reported among males, ages 15 to 19 has nearly doubled in the past ten years, from 1.3 cases per 100,000 in 1997 to 2.5 cases in 2006.
• Rates of occurrence for syphilis had been in decline for over 20 years. Yet, between 2004 to 2006 these rates for syphilis increased from 1.5 cases per 100,000 females in 2004 to 2.2 cases per 100,000 in 2006.
It’s clear, then, that the need for teenagers to know and understand their sexual health is at an all-time high right now.
So, what is the current state of sexual health education? With a new administration, things might be looking up. President Obama’s proposed 2010 budget greatly reduced federal funding for abstinence-only programs, replacing it with money for teen-pregnancy prevention programs which include discussions on birth control. Programs receiving the funding will have to pass rigorous evaluation standards to prove they have been effective in the past. Some money will also be available to develop and test new strategies for preventing teen pregnancy. Abstinence-only programs can apply for these funds, but will have to compete with other initiatives and prove their success.
We can only hope that public school students might finally have access to the comprehensive information they need about their health and bodies. As the CDC report indicates, there is too much at stake otherwise.