Cap Times: Sexually Transmitted Disease Rates Spike, Education Needed

7 Jan

On January 5, 2010, the Capitol Times ran a story on the epidemic rates of sexually transmitted disease and infection in Wisconsin. The article offers explanations for why STIs are spiking, especially among teens, and it looks at the cultural clash between pro-education and abstinence-only proponents.

The numbers are shocking. The article states that:

“One in four teenage girls in the U.S. has an STD, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In Wisconsin, the rate of four of the most commonly reported STDs among teens jumped 53 percent between 1997 and 2007. Females and minorities, especially African-Americans, have been hit hard. And these are numbers that have been reported; actual cases may be much higher. But it remains a hidden epidemic, not just because many STDs have no symptoms, but because of the stigma and politics that complicate efforts to fight them.”

It isn’t a coincidence that this spike in STI rates neatly matches the increase in federal funding for abstinence-only education in public schools. In 1996, Title V of the Welfare Reform Act (called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF) set aside federal matching funds for states – schools could get much needed funds, but they had to teach abstinence rather than comprehensive sexuality education. No education equals no tools to understand how pregnancy works and how STIs are spread. In Wisconsin, Governor Doyle rejected abstinence-only money, but our public schools still aren’t treating education about STIs as a core public health need.

But with a new Obama administration, help is on the way. Last month, Congress approved the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2010. In signing this bill, President Obama will eliminate funding for existing abstinence-only programs, fund comprehensive sex ed, and even establish and fund the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) within Health and Human Services (HHS) which will treat sex ed as a part of protecting our nation’s public health.

This long-awaited step will be the nail in the coffin of abstinence-only: its ineffective withholding of truth to young people, its wasted tax-payer money, its thinly-veiled religious indoctrination in our public schools and its sexist reliance on ancient gender stereotypes. Proponents of abstinence-only education are going to fight back against this defeat with a vengeance, but Wisconsin is set to battle ignorance with education. It’s called the Healthy Youth Act. It would raise state standards for sex ed to be complete, medically accurate, peer-reviewed and age-appropriate. And it will finally be federally funded. Now is the time for Wisconsin legislators to pass this bill.

This crisis of teen reproductive health is huge. It’s cultural. It’s financial. It’s systemic. But any public health care worker will tell you that for all the talk about health care reform and tax-dollar funded Medicaid programs, the first step in having healthy teens and a healthier country is education. Tell our state legislators to pass the Healthy Youth Act immediately in 2010.

Take action on the Healthy Youth Act! Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin have set up a web page with details on the bill, tools to contact your legislator, and write a letter to the editor. Please take action on this issue today.

We blogged about the Healthy Youth Act on World AIDS Day, after the state Assembly passed the bill, and when the bill was first introduced.

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