Startling statistics should encourage change

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 26, 1999

The numbers don’t lie.

Thursday, August 26, 1999

The numbers don’t lie. More than 50 percent of Minnesota teens are having sexual intercourse by the time they are seniors in high school, but 42 percent are not using condoms.

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The number of teens who have given birth at Albert Lea Medical Center has doubled from 1997 to 1998.

Forty four percent of all welfare dollars go to families started by teens.

About 40 percent of Chlamydia cases occur in young adults under 19, and in Minnesota, 40 percent of new HIV infections are among youths.

Of course, not all the numbers are bad news. In Freeborn County, more teens are choosing abstinence.

According to figures compiled by the Freeborn County Family Services Collaborative, 55 percent of 12th-grade females report abstinence from sexual activity, up from 42 percent in 1995. Twelfth-grade males who abstained was up to 48 percent in 1998. In 1995, only 37 percent of 12th-grade males reported that they abstinence from sexual activity. In 1992, only a third of high school seniors were abstaining from sexual activity.

Programs like PRIDE and ENABL – both of which would not be possible without the support of teens, parents and community members – can celebrate their success.

Parents are also to thank for the impressive numbers. More parents are comfortable talking to their children about sex and values.

They also realize that teens are bombarded with mixed messages from television and film. And it’s up to parents to teach family values and beliefs to counter the promiscuous media.

Realistically, however, we will never see 100 percent abstinence in teens. Not everyone can ascribe to the same values. So the education we offer must be comprehensive. We must try to reach everyone, regardless of values. Abstinence-only based education excludes at least half of the high school seniors.

Comprehensive education includes abstinence, as well as STD and HIV education. And contraceptives have to play a role in that education too.

Teaching teens the proper way to use a condom does not necessarily send the message that they should have sex. In fact, according to the American Journal of Public Health, &uot;condom availability in schools does not increase sexual activity, but does increase use among already sexually active teens,&uot; the Minnesota AIDS Project reported.

If fewer teens are having sex, yet more are getting pregnant, the most logical conclusion points to the fact that the teens who are having sex aren’t using contraceptives.

At Monday’s AIDS Town Hall meeting sponsored by MAP, Carol Haun of Planned Parenthood shared a disappointing anecdote. One of her clients came to the Planned Parenthood Clinic to get contraceptives. The client’s parents found the contraceptives, threw them out and told the teen to stop having sex.

That’s hardly the approach a young adult needs. Chances are very good the teen will continue to have sex – unprotected sex.

If that teen can’t talk to the parents about sex, how then will subjects like STDs and pregnancy be approached?

Parents have to realize that their teens are growing up in a totally different social climate in the 1990s and heading into the next century.

While parents may not want their teens to be sexually active, they must keep their wellbeing as a priority.

With the increasing number of teens becoming pregnant or infected with a sexually transmitted disease, it’s time offer comprehensive sexuality education that includes contraceptives and disease prevention.

Teens who know about contraceptives and how to use them may still chose abstinence. But if they do not chose abstinence, at least they will have the knowledge to protect themselves against pregnancy and disease.