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February 24, 2004 7:36 PM   Subscribe

Half of young Americans to get STDs - so say several collected studies by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and others. Can the Bush administration's plan to double abstinence-only spending solve this problem? Or can the argument be made that keeping condoms out of the classrooms causes more STDs than prevents?
posted by wfrgms (45 comments total)

 
Call me insane, but I don't think lack of information is the problem. If there's somebody out there at this point who dosen't know what a condom is or how to use it, then maybe that person shouldn't be having sex, period.

People know what to do, they just don't do it.

And 50% seems awfully high. My sexual experience is by no means broad, but I've met all kinds of people and I've known one person who's had an STD and that was crabs and it was years ago.
posted by jonmc at 7:45 PM on February 24, 2004


"The White House is pouring money into programs that tell teens to just say no to sex. Most experts say the programs don't work -- except to enrich the religious right."
posted by homunculus at 7:47 PM on February 24, 2004


For prudes, the Bush white house spends an awful lot of time thinking about how the rest of us should be having sex (or not...)

Just saying...
posted by swerdloff at 7:53 PM on February 24, 2004


Or can the argument be made that keeping condoms out of the classrooms causes more STDs than prevents?

Of course the argument can be made. In fact, in both of the articles you link to the argument is made.

From the first: They said the U.S. government's policy of preferring abstinence-only education would only increase those rates.

And the second: The proposal comes despite a lack of evidence that such programs work. There is even specific evidence that they don't work. An independent study commissioned by the Minnesota health department has found that sexual activity doubled among junior high school students who took part in an abstinence-only program.
posted by cohappy at 7:55 PM on February 24, 2004


Isn't one popular definition of insanity a person trying something that doesn't work, observing that it doesn't work, then trying the same thing again? This has been tried before. It was called "Just Say No" and it didn't work. If kids aren't going to say "No" to some buddy with a joint they sure as hell aren't going to tune out what their own gonads are telling them.
posted by trondant at 8:09 PM on February 24, 2004


I don't really believe the 50% number. But, on the bright side if it really is 50% at least the WORST you can do is a 2X increase.
posted by substrate at 8:14 PM on February 24, 2004


I've chosen to abstain for almost three years now - but it isn't because I've been "ed'jewkated". I've simply added up the pros: feels great.... feels great... feels great.. and added up the cons: stds, pregnency, unwanted attachment, and perhaps the possibility that it won't feel great if I get an std. And you have no idea how many women will be so relaxed if you tell them you actually don't want to have sex with them. Of course, an occasional hand-job ain't too bad...
posted by woil at 8:14 PM on February 24, 2004


jonmc: Whether someone has contracted an STD might not be the first thing they mention to you when you meet.
posted by ODiV at 8:14 PM on February 24, 2004


"It said three diseases -- human papillomavirus or genital wart virus, a parasitic infection called trichomoniasis and chlamydia -- accounted for 88 percent of all new cases of STDs in 15- to 24-year-olds. "

Besides that, I have a funny hunch that the headline is completely wrong. The actual report says something different: "Representing one-quarter of the ever-sexually active population aged 15-44, young people acquire nearly one-half of all new STDs."

Half of the STD's, not half of the young people! Which is quite a bit less surprising.
posted by smackfu at 8:15 PM on February 24, 2004


We don't allow driver education teachers to say, "it's unsafe to speed when you're driving, but, if you must speed anyway, let me tell you where the cops have the speed traps and how to install and operate a radar detector." We wouldn't use scientific studies of how many tickets are given to teenagers to change the content of the lesson plan, either.

Abstinence-only education is perfectly appropriate in communities which have determined that sexual morality is as important a value as traffic laws. Congress and the President are the arbiters of community values insofar as federal tax dollars are concerned; if you don't like it, vote for someone else, or have your local school board turn down the federal dollars and conduct their condom education on their own dime.
posted by MattD at 8:18 PM on February 24, 2004


jonmc, over the years I've met plenty of people who had STDs - mainly herpes and genital warts. Once, I went out on three dates with a completely straight laced girl before she asked me if I had ever had a cold sore (code for "I've got herpes..." We didn't date after that, but remained friends.)

I've also indirectly known of several people who have/had AIDS. All this and I've lived most of my life in the conservative bible belt. I've realized that STDs are all around us - you say you've only known one person - but you've probably met dozens more who had an STD.

For example, more than 40 million people have herpes in the US. It's possible that a large number of them don't even know they have it... the numbers are even higher for genital warts.

So, either you don't know a lot of people, live somewhere where it's taboo to talk about STDs or you're an exception - not the rule.

As far as condom use goes... don't underestimate the how incredibly irresponsible and ill-informed people can be... particularly teens. Sex education isn't about teaching teens to roll condoms onto bananas - it's about empowering them to make correct decisions concerning their health.
posted by wfrgms at 8:25 PM on February 24, 2004


MattD: I'd see that example more relevant if the driving instructor said "Driving in the rain can be dangerous so you should avoid it. If you do drive in the rain however, here are some tips."

Adding legality just makes hard to compare properly. Also, the safer sex information (condoms, etc) is focused on safety whereas telling someone how to circumvent the law is not.

and jonmc: just occured to me that you probably meant "met" in a sexual sense. whoops.
posted by ODiV at 8:26 PM on February 24, 2004


MattD: flawed analogy

Sex education -> Driver's education thusly:

You shouldn't speed. But, being young and craving new experiences in the world, it is likely that at some point you will speed.

So, we will educate you on how to operate your vehicle safely and help reduce the risk associated with speeding.

Abstinence -> Driver's ed thusly:

You shouldn't speed. But, being young and craving new experiences in the world, it is likely that at some point you will speed.

So, we will teach you to be ashamed of your car, to never operate it, not even by yourself in the driveway, and refuse to teach you any defensive driving techniques or other skills which might in any way help you if you do happen to take it for a spin once. Perhaps if we can scare you or guilt you into never driving the car everything will be okay. Besides, how badly could teenagers want to drive cars anyway?
posted by Ynoxas at 8:29 PM on February 24, 2004


I went through an abstinence-only program in high school. I think thousands of people have had the same experience. It looked suspiciously like our anti-drug education: slides of sores, cautionary tales, stern lectures from gym teachers.

The worst parts of abstinence-only education are the things that are left out. We were only given a quick run-down of the available birth control methods and their failure rates. But they never explained what a ‘failure rate’ is. It always sounded like the failure rate for condoms was 12% for each use, not 12% for an entire year of use. With those dismal sounding statistics I would not be surprised if lots of teenagers decided that they weren’t worth the trouble.

If teens are expected to make decisions about their sexuality, it couldn't hurt to give them all of the information available.
posted by Alison at 8:31 PM on February 24, 2004


MattD, the risk of speeding isn't actually getting caught. It's being killed in a crash, which becomes much more likely as the speed you travel increases. And, of course, the analogue for condoms here would be... safety belts.

So it's more like if driving educators said "It's unsafe to speed when you're driving, but if you do, at least make sure you're wearing a safety belt." Would you seriously suggest that a driving teacher shouldn't teach students about safety belts because they make students more likely to speed?
posted by wilberforce at 8:32 PM on February 24, 2004


Abstinence-only education is perfectly appropriate in communities which have determined that sexual morality is as important a value as traffic laws.

Because non-abstinence education is in conflict with sexual morality?
posted by cohappy at 8:33 PM on February 24, 2004


Actually, we do allow driver education teachers to talk about speeding safely, because it's absolutely necessary. On many roads around the country, it's dangerous to drive under the speed limit, and drivers must be taught how to handle such situations or they'll get themselves and other people killed. The same thing applies to this situation; public health cannot be endangered just because talking about sex makes people uncomfortable any more than we can avoid teaching evolution because it makes folks uncomfortable. Besides, if people want to promote abstinence, comprehensive sex education is far more likely to result in abstinence. Abstinence-only sex education leads to less abstinence among teenagers than almost any alternative. Teaching anything in "Just say no" form to teenagers encourages a "Definitely say yes" attitude.
posted by gspira at 8:40 PM on February 24, 2004


My sexual experience is by no means broad, but I've met all kinds of people and I've known one person who's had an STD and that was crabs and it was years ago.

This topic (STDs) came up at an all-female baby shower I attended not long ago (don't ask how we got to that topic, tequila involved) ... of eighteen women there, only one had not had chlamydia at some point....

I honestly don't think I know of a single woman my own age who was sexually active on a college campus has not been treated for this at some point.
posted by anastasiav at 8:44 PM on February 24, 2004


I was about to mention that Chlamydia is much more common than most people realize. I think doctors often do not even mention to women who have it that it IS an STD. Often they are told they have a "vaginal infection" given the prescription for antibiotics and sent on their merry way.
posted by SweetIceT at 8:51 PM on February 24, 2004


How about instead of just abstinence-only education we forcefully inject all incoming high school freshmen with a long-term harmless but short-term excruciatingly-embarrasing STD? Once the proper political/religous pressure is in place most parents would be quick to sign the consent forms - after all, its only short term discomfort.

About three days into the chaos orginating out of all the itching and scratching is when we'd start the abstinence program. Surely once they realize that what they've been given is the mildest of the mild our precious children will remain pure white virgins for the remainder of their existences.
posted by cohappy at 9:04 PM on February 24, 2004


jonmc - so... your friends and acquaintances don't share their more intimate details with you ... perhaps that is entirely another issue.

teen/young adults and condoms on the other hand is one worth discussing - ... think about it for a second, or visit any of the hundreds of websites that address the issue of sexuality and teens, and you'll get some sense of how teen pregnancy and the prevalence of stds happen ... the bush administration is doing everything it can to ignore reality and in the process make matters worse.
posted by specialk420 at 9:47 PM on February 24, 2004


I don't know - call me a libertine, but I think kids should be taught that :

1) they are animals
2) their hormones are yanking them around and making them want to have sex - sex is about breeding, and early parenthood correlates with poverty, increased marital or inter-partner dysfunction and violence, substance abuse, yada yada
3) sex is normal, and pleasurable
4) sex without contraception tends to lead sooner or later to pregnancy,
5) sex spreads STD's, some of which can be fatal
6) Almost all healthy animals - and humans are biologically animals - want to have sex.
7) sex without emotional ramifications is hard - emotions that revolve around sex are also part of human biological makeup
8) "Safe Sex" is more - or less - possible given two equally responsible partners
9) Different religions have different perspectives on the subject
10) Different, nonwestern and non-industrialized cultures have and have had wildly different approaches to the subject than what Americans are familiar with
11) In clinical terms (outside of religious and moral contexts ), there is no "right" or "wrong" about sex - only actions and consequences.
12) Having sex from social pressure is unnecessary for teenagers who have plenty of time to learn on their own, unpressured time.
13) Talking about sex a lot, frankly, with potential partners before actually having sex will almost certainly improve the quality of the sex and might help stave off a number of the potential dangers.
14) It is not necessary to feel guilt and shame about sexuality or one's body - or it's urges - though many people do.
15) No one ever died from abstinence or - for that matter - masturbation.
16) Properly handled - as with a gun or a car - sex can be a good and useful thing.
17) Parents will often shirk the responsibility of talking about sexuality with their children. Encourage them anyway : In extreme cases, it may be necessary to find a trusted adult to talk to, but beware in these cases of sexual predators, especially clergy.
18) If one believes in a creator-God, then that God created sexuality.
19) Studies of animal sexuality are very instructive - it is all over the map. many species have gay or bisexual members, and this actually fits quite well into the overall evolutionary scheme (if one believes in evolution).
20) Some people have many - hundreds or even thousands of sexual partners over a lifetime. The great majority have a handful up to a few dozen. Some have only one, others none at all. This full range - from extreme promiscuity to absolute monogamy - represents one index of human sexuality.
21) Human sexuality is extremely diverse both in biological and psychological terms and, further -
22) Men and women are very different - Men have about the same amount of raw genetic difference from women as squirrels
23) Nonetheless, men and women are somehow compatible - uneasily so in some case, and extremely well in others.
24) There is a huge amount of literature about the subtler (or not) aspects of human sexuality. Read about it first. Abelard and Heloise, Anais Nin........
25) Anne Landers sometimes has good advice. She was a purty young thing once.
26) The emotional component of sex can be very, very different between boys and girls.......but sometimes remarkably similar in some cases too.
27) Guilt and stress - about sex or about anything at all, for that matter - is physiologically unhealthy.
28) Both men and women, and boys and girls tend to want partners who seem beyond their reach.
29) We all come with an invisible sexual desirability ranking stamped on our foreheads - this ranking can be changed to a greater or lesser attempt through effort but remains nonetheless a mooring point of sorts.
30) All desire, sexual and otherwise tends to end in suffering and death. That is the human condition which is also - nonetheless - can be full of much joy along the way too.
31) It has been recently demonstrated that it is OK to marry one's cousin.
32) In some religions, sex can be practiced as a devotional act. For others, it is considered a necessary evil.
33) Don't
34) Do
35) Think.
posted by troutfishing at 9:55 PM on February 24, 2004


abstinence policy:teenage sex::prohibition policy:drinking
posted by joedan at 10:03 PM on February 24, 2004


Sheesh. When I was a teenager, I wouldn't have had the first idea how to figure out how to get a girl to have sex with me. Abstinence was easy under those conditions. I was vaguely aware that other guys could get some, but knew maybe one person who did. How did those conditions change, such that not only are guys getting some, but enough guys are getting enough sex that half of all guys come down with some kind of disease? I mean, I'm not THAT old -- fifteen was only twenty years ago! And AIDS has become a much more major factor than it was when I was their age. They ought to be not only unable to find sex partners, but petrified to try.
posted by kindall at 10:04 PM on February 24, 2004


it's not that half of all guys get some kind of disease, it's that half of all new std cases are among today's youth.

They ought to be not only unable to find sex partners, but petrified to try.

simple, for some people sex drive can overpower ration.
posted by joedan at 10:13 PM on February 24, 2004


"Half of all young Americans will get a sexually transmitted disease by the age of 25" sounds like, um, half of all guys get some kind of disease.
posted by kindall at 10:20 PM on February 24, 2004


yeah, that's what the headline says.

now then, you can believe the headline, or you can read the actual report:

RESULTS: Approximately 18.9 million new cases of STD occurred in 2000, of which 9.1 million (48%) were among persons aged 15-24. Three STDs (human papillomavirus, trichomoniasis and chlamydia) accounted for 88% of all new cases of STD among 15-24-year-olds.
posted by joedan at 10:29 PM on February 24, 2004


And if those numbers continue (approximately 10 million new cases per year in that age group for ten years), then yes, around 50% of teenagers will have an STD between the ages of 15 and 24.

See, they're both right!
posted by kindall at 12:07 AM on February 25, 2004


There were actually two reports issued today. If you read this one (published by my alma mater, UNC), it says:

The researchers estimated a total of 9 million new cases of STDs among Americans ages 15-24 in the year 2000. This number suggests that by age 25, at least half of sexually active youth will have acquired an STD. Nearly half (48%) of new STD cases in the country occur among people ages 15-24, even though these youth make up only a quarter of the sexually active population.

This seems to be where all the headlines are coming from.
posted by neurodoc at 12:13 AM on February 25, 2004


I presume the report refers to the bottom half.
posted by johnnyboy at 5:09 AM on February 25, 2004


Please, Bush, save us from our own biology!
posted by the fire you left me at 6:04 AM on February 25, 2004


and jonmc: just occured to me that you probably meant "met" in a sexual sense. whoops.

Nope, I mean "met" in the ordinary sense, and these people told me about all kinds of other shit, drug stuff, criminal matters, all kinds of intimate family stuff, but no social diseases. And it's odd, because I've engaged in some risky behavior in my time.

Just lucky I guess.
posted by jonmc at 6:24 AM on February 25, 2004


Call me insane, but I don't think lack of information is the problem. If there's somebody out there at this point who dosen't know what a condom is or how to use it, then maybe that person shouldn't be having sex, period.

There's always those out there who doesn't know the basics about birth control and sexual disease prevention. People slip through the cracks somehow, and there's always the new generation coming up who haven't heard it. I remember a shift at my high school fast food job during which three of my co-workers insisted that it was impossible for a girl to get pregnant while drunk and I laboured in vain to convince them otherwise. They'd say, "Oh if if it were possible we'd have so many children by now," and I'd say, "That's called dumb luck." But I was getting nowhere and gave up.

The ignorance is out there. That's why we need to make a concerted effort to keep teaching the basics, especially in schools where there is a captive audience, even though it may seem obvious to many.
posted by orange swan at 6:27 AM on February 25, 2004


I remember a shift at my high school fast food job during which three of my co-workers insisted that it was impossible for a girl to get pregnant while drunk and I laboured in vain to convince them otherwise.

Then I don't think a teacher would've convinced them either. People believe what they want to believe. And quite frankly, people that stupid shouldn't be allowed to breed.
posted by jonmc at 6:47 AM on February 25, 2004


MattD, what a terrible analogy. Driving within the limits is normal yet you make sexuality be abnormal and wrong like speeding.

Once the fundies and nutcases out there start to realize that sex is normal, natural, and good for you then we'll see some real progress into getting rid of pie-in-the-sky abstinence programs and shifting to teaching safe sex without the religious shame attached to it.

If anything, abstinence programs that take precedence over teaching safe sex contribute to STDs and over-population. I wish I lived in your fantasy world where a human's #1 activity wasn't getting it on, but alas some of us have to sober up and face reality less we join the ranks of opressive theocracies. In the meantime we have faith-based STDs. Thanks Bush!

Worse, these programs are hand-outs to religious and anti-abortion organizations:
Yet when it comes to abstinence education, money seems to be no object. Bush's budget recommends $270 million for programs that try to dissuade teenagers from having sex, double the amount spent last year. Much of that money would be given in grants to Christian organizations such as Youth for Christ and to anti-abortion groups operating so-called crisis pregnancy centers, outfits that masquerade as women's health clinics but deliver a strongly anti-abortion message and often medically inaccurate information. It would pay for school programs that teach kids that premarital sex leads to psychological maladies and that sex with condoms is a kind of viral Russian roulette.
posted by skallas at 6:58 AM on February 25, 2004


I wish I lived in your fantasy world where a human's #1 activity wasn't getting it on,

Actually, if mine (and most people I know's) adolescence was any indication then humanity's #1 activity is actually "getting it on in a fantasy world." If you know what I'm saying.
posted by jonmc at 7:05 AM on February 25, 2004


Inflammation of the foreskin, Reminds me of your smile...
posted by Pink Fuzzy Bunny at 8:08 AM on February 25, 2004


Kids:
Aids/Herpes = incurable. Don't catch them.
Hepatitis = easy and free vaccination (in Canada at least. In Montreal, gay bars ran a special trio of parties to ensure everyone got all three doses two weeks apart.)
Pregnancy: Dumbass.
The rest (unless I'm totally wrong): Probably embarassing and painful, but curable, so dive in.

That's my take on the whole thing.
posted by jon_kill at 8:27 AM on February 25, 2004


And in a way, I think that the abstinance-only folks are being a bit dishonest. Just about every safer-sex education workshop I've been involved in has included the view that monogamy and abstinance are very effective at avoiding the risks of pregnancy and STDs.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:45 AM on February 25, 2004


jonmc Call me insane, but I don't think lack of information is the problem. If there's somebody out there at this point who dosen't know what a condom is or how to use it, then maybe that person shouldn't be having sex, period.

People know what to do, they just don't do it.


Come spend a few months in tech support; your faith in the ignorance of the general population will be renewed. I work at a university and I can't believe some of the sexual misinformation I've heard come out of the mouths of students.

SweetIceT I was about to mention that Chlamydia is much more common than most people realize. I think doctors often do not even mention to women who have it that it IS an STD. Often they are told they have a "vaginal infection" given the prescription for antibiotics and sent on their merry way.

This is just foolish. Ya, the doctor may be avoiding some embarrassment on the patient's side but if she got it from a regular partner she'll be back with the same symptoms sooner rather than later. Most, maybe all, provinces in Canada require by law health care workers to report Chlamydia and other STDs. This is done so that outbreaks can be identified and hopefully contained.
posted by Mitheral at 11:46 AM on February 25, 2004


Jonmc: insane. Just kidding. As someone else mentioned up-thread, either your group of acquaintances is very, very rare—or more likely, they're not talking about their STDs. Or they don't know that they have one.

Abstinence-only education doesn't make sense to me. While I don't think children should be encouraged to be sexually active, I think it's better to treat sex ed as a health issue rather than a moral issue. Let's face it, lots of teenagers and young adults are being sexual in some way, and it's better to address that reality than to pretend that it ain't happening.

I'm 25, and I am honestly shocked when people I know admit that they don't use condoms. It's rare, but it is always surprising.
posted by acornface at 12:06 PM on February 25, 2004


Abstinence-only education is perfectly appropriate in communities which have determined that sexual morality is as important a value as traffic laws. Congress and the President are the arbiters of community values insofar as federal tax dollars are concerned [...]

Horrible driver's ed. analogy aside, this is a fairly disturbing statement. Since some communities, with a particular puritan view of sexual morality, may benefit from abstinence-only sex ed, it is the perogative of the president and congress to make sure that all communities adopt such programs exclusively?

Why is it in the mandate of our federal government to dictate a puritan morality to the many and diverse people in our country? Those federal dollars are important to millions of people who can't afford a private education; taking that money away because the schools refuse to enforce southern baptist-style morality is completely immoral.

Why not worry about some ethics that matter, like when it's right and wrong to impose your rules on someone else's life?
posted by kaibutsu at 12:32 PM on February 25, 2004


Tons of people have STDs. HPV is really very common - its the reason that women get pap smears every year. Probably many of your male friends, jonmc, have it and don't know, because it has no symptoms in men, but can lead to cervical cancer in women.
posted by goneill at 1:24 PM on February 25, 2004


I was reading a sexual information pamphlet (came with trojan I think) which seemed fairly straightforward. There was a drawing of a pregnant girl which caption said something along the lines of her having sex only once and both getting pregnant and contracting HIV. I was just wondering what the odds of that would be. Seems like they'd be pretty astronomical.

And Trojan seems like a weird name for condoms if you think about the story of Troy. The whole objective was to get inside the secure base and then burst open and release all the soldiers. Maybe that's not quite what they had in mind.
posted by ODiV at 5:21 PM on February 25, 2004 [1 favorite]


Tons of people have STDs.

Oh, I'm sure they do. And there've been a couple times I thought I had 'em and I had checkups. I was disease-free. Maybe all that refined sugar has coated my insides in a protective candy shell.
posted by jonmc at 5:57 PM on February 25, 2004


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