Condom Sense

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The other day I attended the 3rd and final community meeting about a proposed condom availability program for our district’s high schools. The program would be offered to high school students who took a prevention class for half a year and met with the school nurse to discuss condom use. The meeting was well attended and the audience was made up of parents and students primarily.

The first speaker was from the county health department and he shared some staggering statistics about the rates of Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, and teen pregnancies in our state. In Erie County, which includes the City of Buffalo, our rates of Chlamydia were 25% higher than the state as a whole. Below is a link with more NYS stats. You can easily look this information up for your state as well.

http://www.health.ny.gov/statistics/diseases/communicable/std/

Additional we were told that:

  • There are 200 unplanned teen pregnancies in our district each year.
  • 44% of teens in BPS have had sex.
  • Out of those 44%, 35% are not using condoms.
  • 33% or 1 out of 3 BPS students have had sex with at least one person during the past 3 months.
  • 16% have had sex with more than 4 people in their lifetime (meaning up to age 17).
  • 10% had had sex before the age of 13.

That data came directly from the YRBS or Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a link to which I’ve shared below. Here you can read the questionnaire that is given to our kids. Some parents interpret it as the most salacious X rated content they and their children have ever been exposed to. Go ahead. Take a look and see what you think, then I’ll let you in on a little secret. Your kid might not be engaging in any of these activities but chances are they know about them. I know my kid did.

http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/yrbs/pdf/questionnaire/crosswalk_1991-2015.pdf

That evening one parent got up and said something to the effect of, “How dare our district put money into this lurid survey. That money could be much better spent.” He also came up with a couple more doozies: “These teens want to get pregnant so they can be put into the system,” and “Your slide report isn’t accurate because Chlamydia and Gonorrhea can be cured.” I wish he could have shared that last comment with the young student I met that evening who told me that her friend thought she was pregnant because she stopped getting her period. Instead she had Chlamydia that had gone untreated and will probably result in infertility.

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Who, What, Where  

The evening really got going when a student who graduated in 2009 got up to help facilitate the discussion. He said that when he was in school he and his friends didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about academics. They mostly talked about sex. Who was getting it, how much they were getting, and where they were getting it. The Metro bus, school bathrooms, locker rooms, and hallways were some of their favorite places. Did you ever hear of the “World Famous Mustang Ranch”? Well they don’t  raise Mustang’s exactly. It’s the premier brothel of Northern Nevada. As this former student continued to speak I was thinking that our schools were starting to sound a bit like it.

After the student led discussion we broke into groups: those who thought the proposed policy was fair, those who thought it wasn’t lenient enough, and those who thought condoms should not be offered at all. Surprisingly, no one in attendance including the parent who thought teen pregnancy was a way of milking the system, thought that it was a bad idea to offer condoms to teens. That left the other two options and we were pretty much equally divided between them.

My belief was that the policy was fair. Our group agreed that an educational component, some sort of Sex Ed curriculum was necessary to properly inform students and engage them in discussions about risk behaviors. The other group felt like the educational piece did not need to be attached, just make condoms readily available, because everyone’s doing it anyway and no one listens to the stuff coming out of a text book about sexual health. I thought that was a very interesting point. How are our kids receiving health and sex education or are they receiving it at all?

Keeping it Realimages-4

In the past I’ve talked about the importance of an adopted district wide health curriculum. Now I want to propose the adoption of health education that actually speaks to our students. What if there was peer to peer education regarding Sex Ed? What if the former student speaker and others like him went into our schools and talked to the kids from a point of view that they actually understood? What if several of the teen parents who were in the audience shared their stories in our classrooms? Even if we incorporated some of these discussions into a Sex Ed curriculum I believe we would have more engaged students who might start thinking differently about the realities of risky behaviors. And trust me, even if we as parents are doing a good job of discussing this subject matter with our kids at home, I guarantee they are way more comfortable talking about these things with their peers. Remember back to when you were a teen. Were you kicking back with your parents and teachers talking about sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll, or were you saving those conversations for your friends? It’s not to ever say we should abandon these talks as parents or educators, let’s just think about how to make it resonate with our kids in this day and age, not in what some of us might consider the dinosaur ages.

Not My Kid ! The YRBS. Your Resource. No Bullshit.

shutterstock_89867182 I’m guessing, but I’m not certain, that my daughters will have sex at some point in their lives, but two years ago I didn’t believe that. My oldest daughter was in 5th grade when the YRBS or Youth Risk Behavior Survey came out. It’s a national survey that is given out every two years to assess risk behaviors on a number of different “sensitive” topics. It runs the gamut from questions about dental health and nutrition to sexual health, drug use and suicidal tendencies. As a parent you have the option to opt out and the grumblings began immediately when I started asking parents about what they were going to do. I heard a lot of “not my kid” and “great that the schools have taken it upon themselves to introduce our kids to risky behaviors they know nothing about.” One parent even called the District and said the tooth fairy still came to their house not the crack fairy. Many of us had difficulty imagining our ten year olds engaging in drug use, struggling with depression, or having sex. But were we right to opt out? The results of the survey that year showed that many kids were engaging in unprotected sex with multiple partners. In our school district we have over 200 pregnancies each year. Last year we had 2 6th grade girls give birth. The survey also showed that many of our students have high rates of suicidal tendencies and depression and many are experimenting with prescription drugs. I don’t know if my child is one of them because I opted out. Not my kid. But do I really know this? Because of this survey I sat down with my daughter and discussed the sensitive subject matter of the YRBS survey. I told her I had made a mistake in not allowing her to participate but I was happy that it had opened up a dialogue between her and I and that we could talk openly in a safe home environment. And guess what I found? My 10 year old knew a heck of a lot more than I could have ever imagined. She might not have been participating in the behaviors but she certainly knew about them. YRBS has been an important tool for me as a parent because it has forced me to wake up and be aware of the issues and behaviors our kids are faced with. 10 is not too young. There is a reason this survey is administered to kids starting in 5th grade and the results prove it. With the data that we’ve collected in our district we were able to provide dental health care to more than 1500 students who were missing school because of dental health issues. We were also able to bring more guidance counselors into a school that had a high rate of depression and suicidal tendencies. You can read more about it in the article below. Finally, based on the number of students district wide who responded that they are having unprotected sex on a regular basis, we were able surmise that a “condoms in the classroom” program was a necessity. Not as a means of promoting sexual activity rather as a protection and an opportunity to educate. In our district YRBS is going to be offered again in October of 2015. This is exciting news in that we will then have collected “trend data” over the course of a 5 year period. We will be able to see if our efforts are paying off and if we are doing better at giving students the resources they clearly need to inform and educate about risk behaviors. I know that at least one seat that had been empty two years ago will now be filled and I hope other parents nation wide will follow. http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/buffalo-public-schools/students-with-problems-show-need-for-in-school-mental-health-services-20141109