Opinion: Health Education Should Not Be Optional

Felix Cooper, Opinion Editor

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Parents and instructors, it’s time to face facts: Teens are going to have sex, so they need to know all the risks.

Many high school students plan on having families some day. We all learned at some point that babies do not get one-day shipping via storks, and the time to formally educate students on health and wellness comes soon after. Unfortunately, many kids don’t receive the necessary sex education and are therefore left in the confusing middle ground between childhood and adulthood.

Sexual activity comes with its own unique set of responsibilities. As stated before, teens will have sex if they want to have sex–the natural desire cannot be stopped by ignoring its existence. In Glenwood High School, teens are not required to take any health class. The only Health Ed class that broaches the subject is an elective, and even then, the class is arguably lacking.

“There’s no structured teaching for all of the new sexualities, diseases, protection, and etc.” said Instructor Jeff Yoachim.  “The curriculum has not been updated in over a decade. In Health, we learn about relationships, body systems, growth and some diseases, but we don’t really cover Sex Education.”

Recently, Glenwood High School students participated in a survey regarding their health education’s adequacy, including sex education. Of the 170 who responded, more than half said their education left them on shaky ground, meaning they aren’t sure if their education was sufficient or not. One third even answered that their classes had not taught them any useful health work at all, or left them with even more questions. The consequences of inadequate health education are numerous and none of them are good. Neglecting a crucial point of growth in teens opens the door to a wealth of physical health problems, mental problems and teen pregnancies.

Included in those physical health problems are Sexually Transmitted diseases. Although many STDs go unrecognized today, they are still as prolific and dangerous. These diseases become even more viral when swept under the rug: the lack of knowledge not only puts the unaware person in danger, but puts all future partners of both parties in danger, by proxy.

With the damage of ignorance already done, there is no perfect approach to this nearly worldwide problem. Since 2000, rates of HIV positive diagnoses have gradually declined but still remain dangerously high in both the developed and developing world, according to Avert: Global Education On AIDS and HIV.

Educating teens early will strengthen the fight against HIV/AIDs and other sexually transmitted diseases, many of which have no cure and prove fatal. According to the Iowa Adolescent Reproductive Offices’ STD surveillance data report for chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, 15 percent of all men in Iowa between the ages of 15-64 are estimated to have syphilis. Of the 3,800 tested in 2017, 50 percent tested positive for gonorrhea. An estimated 194 people (per 100,000 population) in Mills County tested positive for sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis in 2017. Pottawattamie county had an alarming high of 124 positive cases. More frightening is the statistic that of any given population with HIV, over seventy percent don’t know they have the disease.

Routine testing for all sexually active people is important. The Mills County Public Health office has teamed up with testing centers in Council Bluffs in the past to provide free STD testing for anyone 14 years or older since some insurance companies don’t cover the cost of testing. Testing for venereal diseases is much like a routine check-up at the doctor today.

To encourage safety, teens should be taught how to responsibly connect with their partners about history of STD testing and protection methods. As the saying goes, when you have intercourse with a person, it is not only with just them, but you are essentially having intercourse with every person they have and so on. Teaching teens to accept and encourage openness of health status, STD testing history and methods of preferred protection before and after sex can save more people from painful diseases.

While I’m at it, we as a community must also remove the stigma around sex in general. Of the 170 students who took the poll, 104 said that they did not feel comfortable asking their teachers about health-related questions, with several anonymous responders stating that the environment did not feel safe enough to ask those questions. The truth of the matter is that sex is normal, healthy and even expected–think of parents that pressure their kids for grandchildren in their future. Delaying this inevitable growth point only teaches kids to ignore their questions or problems.

I believe that the ‘abstinence only’ approach of ignoring the topic not only fails to help teens, but smothers natural emotional and physical growth. These students become adults that have relationship problems due to their limited education as teens. I say that failing our community’s teens is no longer an option.