Sacramento needs more sex ed

Teens having fewer pregnancies, but STD rates high

The preliminary analysis of the National Center for Health Statistics report on U.S. birth rates, including data tables, is available here.

It’s a good-news-bad-news thing: California teenagers are doing much better at preventing unplanned pregnancies, but it turns out that they don’t know many forms of birth control won’t protect against sexually transmitted diseases.

The good news was confirmed right before the holidays, when a preliminary report from the National Center for Health Statistics showed that teen birth rates are at a historic low. In fact, it’s the lowest rate in the 70 years that statistics have been kept.

“In fact, the news about the California teen birth rate reaching a record low came out last February, so the fact that the trend is nationwide is very encouraging,” Raquel Simental, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Advocates Mar Monte, told SN&R.

The bad news is that the rate of STD infection among teens in California—and especially in the Sacramento area—is still terribly high.

The rate of infection with chlamydia for Sacramento teens has dropped slightly since the last reporting period, according to data obtained from the California Department of Public Health, but Sacramento County is still among the top 10 highest rates of infection for teens in the state. And for gonorrhea, it’s worse.

“We still have the third highest rate in the state,” said Simental.

“It looks like we’re getting through to teens about preventing pregnancy, but they don’t worry about STDs as much as they should.”

The question, obviously, is how teens can be getting the message about pregnancy prevention but not getting the message about safer sex practices to minimize the spread of STDs?

Simental pointed to efforts at comprehensive sex education that contain material about both pregnancy and STDs.

“It all starts with increasing awareness,” she said. “That’s what Planned Parenthood does in the schools and in the community. Not all the schools take advantage of the curriculum we provide, though.”

Simental also noted that we’re at a cultural moment in which more information about pregnancy prevention is being aimed at teens.

“MTV’s program, 16 and Pregnant, has brought the issue of teen pregnancy to the forefront,” she said. “I think having shows like this available, in addition to the other programs, is having an impact on young people’s behavior.”

The key is that these programs provide “a teachable moment for parents to have an open and honest conversation.”

Now if we can just get the media—and parents—to talk about preventing STDs.