Teens realize prevalence of STIs

Teens+realize+prevalence+of+STIs

Ipsa Chaudhary

Art by Yasmeen El-Jayyousi

Media depicts teenagers as frequently having sex, and it’s become no secret that teenagers “do it.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among U.S. high school students surveyed in 2011, 47.4 percent have had sex.

Yet, while the use of contraceptives and sexually transmitted infection (STI) tests are common among college students, when students in high school attempt to broach the subject, they’re pushed up against a brick wall.

RBHS’s school nurse, Tammy Adkins, said talking about teenage sex is an uncomfortable topic, especially for adults.

She said while students in college are old enough to make the decision of whether they need contraceptives or STI tests, high school students are still the responsibility of the school and their parents, and it becomes a touchy subject whether they should have access to the same amenities college students do.

RBHS has never provided its students with access to contraceptives. But, according to guttmacher.org, between 1978-1990, 28 public schools in the U.S. had condom availability programs. By 1995, that number had grown to 421.

If a student at RBHS has questions about birth control or sexually transmitted infections, Adkins’ lays out options for these students.

“If they ask some sort of question that leads into where you can say, ‘Well, you know condoms are the only way to protect from sexually transmitted diseases,’”Adkins said. “When you can slip that into the conversation, then that’s really about the only place at this point [to approach the subject of STI prevention].”

According to the CDC, 15.3 percent of high school students surveyed in 2011 had experienced sexual intercourse with four or more people within their lifetime, increasing their risk for infections substantially.

Yet, students often don’t use contraceptives, increasing risk of infection and pregnancy. Self-reported condom use is at 62.9 percent in ninth grade and decreases to 49.5 percent for students in twelfth grade, when many young women start using the pill as birth control, according to advocatesforyouth.org.

While teenagers are often concerned with teenage pregnancy, they forget about the risk of infection. But junior Hallie Galvan, who was tested for STIs before getting birth control from Planned Parenthood, said students should get tested as soon as they become sexually active.

“If you feel the need to get birth control, you should feel the need to get tested for STDs just because you don’t know what’s happening,” Galvan said. Your partner’s “not always going to tell you.”

She said if students are educated in fifth grade about sex and later in ninth grade about pregnancy and STI prevention, they should have all the options available to them, including contraceptive availability within school.

Though Columbia Public Schools has never offered contraceptives in their high schools, senior Nina Parker said RBHS or CPS should talk about a step in this direction because it can’t hurt to open up all options.

“I think it would be less taboo if they gave out condoms in high school. We all know high school kids have sex, and I feel like a lot of kids don’t want to spend money on condoms like, ‘Oh, I have to go to the store,’ and the embarrassment of going up to the counter and buying them,” Parker said. “I know Peace Nook offers free condoms. But then you have to go all the way downtown … I feel like it’d be okay if the school handed out condoms in the nurse’s office. I think it would make a difference. At least a little one.”

However, senior Jesse LaFond believes handing out condoms to students isn’t the responsibility of the school, adding that he believes public schools shouldn’t teach kids about sex.

“I remember taking a health class and my teacher went a little bit too far into detail with the kind of sexual acts you can commit on other people. And I found it to be very uncomfortable,” LaFond said. “I think that maybe if you’re going to teach sexual health in school it should be very basic because I think parents know enough about it to teach their kids about it in depth or as far as they want to go.”

LaFond said the same attitude should apply toward contraceptives, with parents teaching their kids what they think is reasonable about contraceptives and sex. He said if kids need condoms, they should acquire them from outside of school.

“I do agree with the fact that kids, if they’re going to be sexually active, should use condoms. But I’m going to disagree with the fact that they should be helped and handed out by the school nurse,” LaFond said. “If she’s kind of pushing for kids to have condoms, or if the school in general is agreeing with that, we’re basically saying it’s OK to go out there and have sex.”

Adkins said so far, public schools have tried to come up with different approaches to inform students of STI and pregnancy prevention methods without actually providing contraceptives to teens. But contraceptives are available to students outside of the school setting.

“There have been training programs that have tried to approach it from all sorts of different angles, you know, abstinence only,” Adkins said. “There was one training I went to once where they were talking about this program where it talked about more of coping strategies. So when you’re there, and you’re hot and bothered, and you want to keep going but you know you shouldn’t, how do you get out of that? And I don’t know that there’s ever been anything that showed what program really made a huge difference.”

Adkins said all programs had benefits and drawbacks, but they don’t fit well into the school curriculum because all STI prevention options can’t be taught in the limited time in health classes. So Adkins tries to do what she can for RBHS students by providing them with information when they ask for it. However, Adkins doesn’t foresee free contraceptives for students in RBHS’s future.

“I don’t know that [contraceptive availability] will ever change, especially in a public school system because you have to deal with different cultures, different values, you know, all sorts of different things like that,” Adkins said. “It’s hard to teach something to the masses about that when there’s so many different ways of offending everybody.”

By Ipsa Chaudhary