More we teach, more we can save

Chico resident Devora Lomas has been a health educator for Planned Parenthood Shasta-Diablo in Butte and Glenn counties for five years.

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month:
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May celebrates the arrival of spring, but May is also Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. This is a time to remind teens, parents, family members and the community about the importance of real sex education and the consequences of unintended pregnancies.

I have been teaching teens in Butte County about their reproductive health, family planning and the proper use of contraception for the past five years. To me, real sex education means straight-forward, unbiased, factually correct information taught over and over again as young people mature.

This seems simple and reasonable to me. Then I am asked, “If we teach pregnancy prevention to young people, aren’t we really telling them it’s OK to have sex?”

My answer is no. Studies show the more teens are educated about sex, the more likely they are to delay intercourse and to use protection when they are engaging in sex. And let me be clear: When I teach about contraception, I emphasize repeatedly that abstinence is the only method that’s 100 percent effective.

California has a sex-education law (SB 71). Along with outlining requirements, it says “abstinence only” education is not allowed. This is a good thing, as these programs have been shown to be ineffective.

Last year, our state was recognized as a national leader in reducing unintended pregnancies and, as a result, costs in key programs. The Guttmacher Institute in Washington found California’s progressive approach to sex education has largely contributed to a 40 percent drop in unintended pregnancies over the past decade. By utilizing age-appropriate, comprehensive sex-education programs, counties could save a great deal more in the long run.

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy estimated that unintended teen pregnancies cost the U.S. $896 million in 2004. What is even more disturbing is that 53 percent of this amount came directly from the state and local levels. That’s money that could have found its way into other health-care or education programs. The more we teach, the more we can save.

As a community member and educator, I am concerned about the health and well-being of our teenagers. Trust me when I say that there is no lack of misinformation and myths regarding pregnancy—and even teens who are not yet sexually active have a right to information on how their bodies work and how to protect themselves.

Young adults are the leaders of the future, and we need to help them protect their health so they can fulfill their potential. Sex education, parental communication and teen-friendly services are all a part of the solution.