Help teens make healthful choices

Jill Dwyer is the director of education at the Women’s Resource Clinic in Chico. She’s also an educator for the Generation AWARE program and on the planning committee for its Parent Education Workshops.

One in four teen girls is infected with a sexually transmitted disease. How incredibly tragic. Recent media reports quote doctors and Planned Parenthood assigning blame for this epidemic on “abstinence only” education—yet on the Web sites of Planned Parenthood, The Medical Institute, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Health and more, abstinence is stated as the only 100 percent effective way to avoid sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancy.

Had they asked Dr. Meg Meeker, a leading authority on STDs, she would’ve explained how the “safe sex” mantra of the past 20 years is a fallacy.

Condom use has risen 67 percent in that time as STDs have become epidemic. Two of the most common STDs, genital herpes and HPV, can be transmitted by skin-to-skin contact in areas not covered by condoms. And the recent explosion of oral cancer in males and females due to HPV is surpassing that caused by tobacco and alcohol. Our teens are at a growing risk of this deadly disease with more than half of American teens now engaging in oral sex.

The casual sex/hooking up/safe sex message our youth are being sold today reminds me of the message my generation was sold about a smoking lifestyle. If I smoked, I’d be sexy, cool, glamorous, even athletic (think Virginia Slims). When the truth was told about cigarettes, it showed addiction, disease and death.

Our youth deserve the same truth about the STD epidemic affecting them directly. How sexy, cool, popular, macho, happy will they be when they’re infected with genital warts, diagnosed with cervical or mouth cancer, experiencing the painful lesions of herpes, or the heartbreaking news that they’re infertile because of untreated Chlamydia?

I’m frustrated and saddened by the competition of who’s “right” or “wrong” in the debate of abstinence vs. comprehensive sex education. What’s critically important is to be honest about the very real, life-changing consequences and risks of sex with more than one partner—an uninfected, faithful, lifetime partner.

There’s an urgency for this generation to turn things around. We must help teens understand that their sexual choices will either be part of the problem or the solution.

I challenge us all to become educated on the STD epidemic and talk to the teens in our lives about sex, including oral sex. They are waiting to hear from us. They’re already hearing a dangerous message loud and clear from the sex-saturated media. We must join in our efforts to educate, encourage and empower them to make the best possible choices for happy and healthy lives.