Faced With Rising Teen STD Rates, County Health Officials Lobbying DISD to Jettison Abstinence-Based Sex Ed

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Teenagers, volatile bundles of hormones that they are, are going to have sex. That's an iron law of nature, as unchangeable as the fact that lions like to eat zebras. It's also a fair bet that, unless they are taught otherwise, these teenagers are going to have sex in an completely unsafe and irresponsible manner.

Texas lawmakers haven't yet come to grips with this, pushing for ever-greater restrictions on sex education in schools. School districts, whose sex ed curricula are set, per state law, by parent-dominated school health advisory committees, have largely followed that lead. Fully half of the state's 1,028 districts have no sex ed program, according to the Morning News. Many of the rest, DISD included, take an abstinence-only approach. (Update on March 19: DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander wrote this morning to say the district takes an "abstinence-based," not abstinence-only approach, as was reported by the Morning News. The district defines it as "emphasizing the benefits of abstinence; includes information about non­coital sexual behavior, contraception, and disease prevention methods; also referred to as abstinence-plus or abstinence-centered.")

It's not surprising that Texas has among the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. It also probably shouldn't come as a surprise that, in Dallas County at least, teen STD rates are on the rise.

There are an untold number of other factors driving this, of course, but Dallas County Health Director Zachary Thompson, whose crusade against HIV/AIDS was chronicled in Saturday's Morning News, would really, really like local school districts to take a more reality-based approach.

"We're OK with abstinence programs but there needs to be a comprehensive sex education discussion around HIV/AIDS prevention with the alarming rates we're seeing in the 13-18 age group," he said.

Those numbers were compiled by Dallas County Health and Human Services for a 2012 report. In 2010, 35 from that age group contracted HIV, which accounted for 3.9-percent of total cases. The numbers for other STDs were far worse. A quarter of the roughly 5,000 gonorrhea cases and 16,000 chlamydia cases in Dallas County in 2010 were diagnosed in teens.

Clearly, the abstinence-only message is not cutting through the evolutionary forces that make kids want to have sex and the cultural ones that help convince them it's OK.

"One of the things we know is that they're getting bombarded with sexual messages. ... They're getting a message, but it's probably the wrong message," Thompson says. He's careful to emphasize that pushing back against that message will take the entire community and is not the responsibility of any single organization.

But it's clear that he thinks the type of abstinence-only education taught at DISD is a major hurdle. "We need to have a way to provide a curriculum that's going to be constructive and preventative in nature." That includes frank discussions of STDs and how to prevent them. And condoms.

What's standing in the way at DISD is the school health advisory committee, whose resistance to such measures I'd presume stems from the aversion of parents to having a third party talk to their children about sex. The committee's co-chair, Julie Grim, referred all questions to DISD spokesman Jon Dahlander.

Thompson says county health officials has approached the committee in hopes of implementing a more comprehensive sex education curriculum. Its members have been "receptive," he said, and recognize the severity of the rising rate of infections.

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26 comments
mewkins
mewkins

I could be mistaken, but I'm assuming that "abstinence-centered" education means they teach that the only way to be 100% protected is to abstain. Seems like common sense, and it wouldn't hurt to have it reinforced. Then from there they say that not abstaining can expose you to X, Y and/or Z. Some behaviours are riskier than others. Prophylactics can provide significant protection from X, and Y if you're engaging in ABC, but less protection from Z. Sounds like a reasonable approach. Why do people have a problem with the suggestion of abstinence? If kids are getting "bombarded with sexual messages" why wouldn't it be appropriate to suggest that abstinence is normal lifestyle choice?

GuitarPlayer
GuitarPlayer

I once knew a girl who was 23 at the time with 5 kids from 3 different fathers. She thought the only way she could get preggo was if she had and orgasm at the same time as her male partner. This is what happens when someone is taught about sex and ignorance takes over. Then you have lawmakers and the Religious Right who are against abortion or funding programs that educate and help people who need it. 

RTGolden1
RTGolden1 topcommenter

I'm proud of you Eric, you actually got this story through with the pertinent information and a minimal amount of snark (even though the topic is rich with snark opportunity).  Even as a conservative, I cannot find any version of reality where this makes sense.  Abstinence education has never worked, no matter how diligently it has been applied.  I don't know how I, as a modestly educated, low-rung clinger can figure this out and our vaunted educators and parental health committees can't.

Susan Durham
Susan Durham

Reminds me of lessons I gave at my kitchen table!

Miguel Ortiz
Miguel Ortiz

Teach them stupid kids about their doodles and poodles. :l I say once or twice a year (at random times) the school goes out and hangs pictures of STDs on the inside of their lockers. And have child birth videos on a loop as a movie day when subs come to teach.

Denise Keeping
Denise Keeping

People crying that they don't want anyone else teaching their kids about sex, but then aren't teaching those kids about sex because they get embarrassed or ashamed or whatever is completely ridiculous and willfully ignorant. Don't be surprised at the results if this is your tactic at dealing with human nature....

Deja DeMoss
Deja DeMoss

I'd like to see the stats for people that were either impregnated or contracted a disease during spring break.

Anatole Noskov
Anatole Noskov

Making something more taboo for teenagers and expect not to do it is dumb. Teaching them more about responsibility is more important.

Carla Marcela S
Carla Marcela S

I'm totally a product of DISD. Pre-K through 12th grade. Sex education is in MAJOR need of help in the district, in my opinion. Most students don't receive any kind of sex-ed until the 9th grade for three-ish days during a one semester class and most of it is a slideshow of diseased genitals which keep the kids off of each other for a couple of weeks if that.

Ryan Bauer
Ryan Bauer

If telling adolescents not to have sex actually achieved the desired result, humans would not have been very successful as a species.

CogitoErgoSum
CogitoErgoSum topcommenter

Another example of the damaging effects of Puritanical religious influence on our society. The Bible says sex before marriage is sinful, so we teach our kids that it is not right. Everything in their hormonal bodies tells them it is exactly right. So, parents and administrators would rather bury their heads in the sand with this abstinence-only garbage than deal with the biological reality of human sexuality. Unfortunately, that leaves the kids scrambling to figure it out for themselves and they often make mistakes that rob them of their health (STDs) and ability to pursue an education/career (teen pregnancy).

snowboard9
snowboard9

Can't understand why teens continue to have sex even after they have been told not to.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

So if I put a condom on a banana my girlfriend won't get pregnant?


Can we use a cucumber if no bananas are at the store?


How come I have to go to the drugstore to get the condoms and then the grocery store for the bananas?


Can the banana be used more than once?


How ripe should the banana be?

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@mewkins

Well, because, as all of human history has taught us, it just isn't a normal lifestyle choice for the vast majority of humankind.

The fact that our peak years of sexual desire and desirability also happen to coincide with a still underdeveloped decision making process is a pretty strong one-two punch by mother nature. The societal constructs of  marriage, family and responsibility to the community have no impact on the reptilian brain.

Mervis_Earl
Mervis_Earl

Walgreens has bananas so problem solved. Or the grocery sells condems. Double problem solved.

mewkins
mewkins

"Normal" probably wasn't the right adjective. Perhaps it should be proposed that it is an acceptable choice. And the only 100% safe choice. You may be ostracized by your peers and you could get hairy palms and poor eyesight, like me, but you'll be safe.

ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul
ThePosterFormerlyKnownasPaul topcommenter

@Mervis_Earl  

Do the condoms work without the bananas?

What if I don't have a condom?  Will using the banana without a condom work?

What if I don't have a banana? Will the condom still work?

markzero
markzero

@CornyDoggy @mewkins it's not common sense in cases where they haven't even been taught sexual diseases (other than AIDS, anyway) exist.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

@mewkins

I can live with the term acceptable, only I'd qualify it with an, unlikely, but . . .

CornyDoggy
CornyDoggy

@mewkins 

We have to educated them that abstaining from sex will keep you from getting a sexual disease?  Isn't that common sense? Why not spend those same resources to educate on safe sex?

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