The School District of Philadelphia has a lot of problems: underwhelming test scores, unruly students, incompetent leadership. But is it also partly responsible for a rising STD crisis?
According to a Philadelphia Inquirer editorial from January, our city has one of the highest STD rates in the country, and it’s driven by sexually active but ill-informed teens. A 2009 report from the Department of Public Health shows an increase in gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis among 15 to 19 year olds, escalating to a level that now triples the national rate for that age group.
On top of that, a 2009 youth-risk behavior survey reveals that out of the nearly 500 Philadelphia students questioned, 37 percent did not use a condom the last time they had sex. If such behaviors continue, our city will be at risk for an STD epidemic, endangering our population and draining our healthcare resources.
Last year, Mayor Nutter attempted to address the problem with an STD prevention campaign, featuring a design contest for a Philly brand condom (pictured at right) and the launch of a new educational website directed at teens. (Though, truth be told, its juvenile descriptions seem aimed at a much younger demographic; chlamydia, the site informs us, “can make it so you can’t have babies”). Since the winning design was revealed in April, over a million Freedom Condoms have already been distributed. Plus, the city offers free STD screening in some high schools . But is it enough to change the tide of decision-making among teens when it comes to sex? Many parents, educators and health professionals say no—sex ed should also be installed in our schools.
“Far more critical than cool-looking condoms is the need for sex education in our public schools,” writes Christina Long, a middle school language arts teacher. She mentions a colleague who encountered “a teen couple [who] reported that their method of contraception was to have intercourse standing up.”
Currently, a state mandate requires that all PA high schools teach students about HIV and STDs, but there’s no comprehensive sex ed course to help teens navigate peer pressure, make healthy decisions in the heat of the moment, or learn how to get and use birth control, like the pill or a condom. Even a study out of the University of Pennsylvania that supports an abstinence-only approach cited “exercises involv[ing]… communication/negotiation skill improvement and resisting peer pressure” as vital components of sex ed.
With the school year fast approaching, we need to focus just as much attention on these public health issues as we do on standardized test scores. The city may be encouraging kids to wrap it before they tap it, but the school district also needs to step up and help students understand all the implications of sex so they can make more informed decisions about their bodies—you know, before our city turns into a sexual cesspool.
Do you think comprehensive sex ed should be mandatory in our schools? What about an abstinence-only approach? We want your thoughts in the comments.