- The Washington Times - Monday, September 29, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

In your Tuesday editorial “Sex ed in D.C.,” the writer asked whether sex education is more important than health education. The author also asks us to consider why we need sex education, when HIV rates among teens are so “low.”

The answer to the question is straightforward: prevention. Youths need to get the lifesaving information they need before they are sexually active. How do we know we need prevention? Because our local rates for sexually active teens and sexually transmitted diseases among teens are figures that should give us all pause.

Youths in the District are sexually active earlier than many of us want to acknowledge: According to the 2007 Youth Risk Behavior survey conducted in D.C. Public Schools, 30.6 percent of middle-school students said they already were sexually active. Frighteningly, 10 percent of those had had sexual intercourse before age 11. Between 2003 and 2007, reported syphilis cases among adolescents ages 15 to 24 increased by 233 percent, and reported chlamydia cases in that age group increased by 94 percent. Women younger than 18 are physiologically more vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases, and the presence of a sexually transmitted disease makes a person more vulnerable to HIV infection if the infected person comes into contact with HIV.

I agree with the statement that “health education in the early grades should focus on just that - health and nutrition.” In fact, that’s what the District’s health standards dictate. Metro TeenAIDS fully supports the schools’ Health Learning Standards, which emphasize the need to teach health and nutrition but also address the real epidemic of teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and HIV/AIDs.

At Metro TeenAIDS, we hear from parents and guardians that although they think they are responsible for teaching their children about the moral and ethical dimensions of relationships and sex, parents also think schools are better equipped to provide the medical facts.

We hear from concerned parents that they want to know what their children are learning in schools. We let parents know that the Web site of the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (osse.dc.gov) has a document explaining the health standards (along with the standards for all subjects).

Health education in the District must include sex education that is science-based and age appropriate. Health research shows that sex education should start with and emphasize abstinence and should include information on condoms and birth control.

Our lack of a consistent health education curriculum clearly has left young people vulnerable. We must demand that schools include information on how young people can protect themselves from one of the top 10 causes of death among D.C. residents: HIV/AIDS.

ADAM TENNER

Executive director

Metro TeenAIDS

Washington


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