Attempting to counter one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state, the Payson School Board Monday approved an eight-week sex education program for freshmen to start in the fall.
Gila County Teen Pregnancy Coordinator Nancy Rutherford will conduct the twice-a-week sessions, which will substitute for physical education classes.
Rutherford told the board the program would stress that abstaining from sex remains the only sure-proof way to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases, but will also make sure students know about birth control options.
“Abstinence is what’s promoted as safest” but the 16 sessions will offer a comprehensive approach, said Rutherford.
Gila County has a teen pregnancy rate of 40 per 1,000 girls younger than 19. That’s the highest rate in Arizona and four times the national average. A daunting 62 percent of the women giving birth in Gila County last year were unmarried.
Rutherford said that last year 37 girls at Payson High School had babies compared to 35 in Globe.
“That’s pretty alarming,” observed Superintendent Casey O’Brien.
Payson High School Principal Kathe Ketchem enthusiastically endorsed the program, which the principal’s advisory committee also favors.
“They were adamant about providing this program,” she said, which also drew support from students.
She said one of the seniors she talked to said, “How come nobody lets us talk about this?”
Even the physical education teachers who will lose class time with the ninth-graders supported the program, said Ketchem.
The only questions school board members raised centered on whether students skipping P.E. to take band and other subjects might miss the sessions.
“I strongly recommend we do this,” said Ketchem. “We’ll miss some kids that don’t take P.E., but I’d hate to pull them out of band or drama or academic classes.”
Rutherford said the classes would use role-playing and other techniques to help students practice resisting peer pressure and making their own choices.
“I can tell the kids about the heartache, so they know the decisions they make will affect all their tomorrows,” said Rutherford.
A national federal study of teenage sexual behavior found that 46 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse at least once and 34 percent have had sexual intercourse within the past three months.
The study revealed that 14 percent have had four or more partners and 6 percent had their first sexual intercourse before the age of 13.
The program will mingle statistics and information about AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy with an effort to develop decision making skills and relationship skills, so teens won’t feel pressured into having sex.
Rutherford indicated that the nationally developed Reducing the Risk (RTR) curriculum had undergone rigorous testing. Studies have shown that the RTR curriculum delays the onset of first intercourse, reduces the rate of unprotected intercourse, increases parent-child communication and increases knowledge about contraception, pregnancy risk and sexually transmitted diseases.
However, the handout she provided to the board didn’t include specific citations or results from those outcomes studies.
Several recent studies have backed the notion that sex education programs can reduce teen pregnancy rates and cases of sexually transmitted diseases by at least delaying how soon teens start having sex.
Sex education classes before first intercourse delayed the first sexual relationship and resulted in a higher use of birth control, according to a study involving 2,000 teenagers conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and published this year in the Journal of Adolescent Health.
The study didn’t differentiate between students who went through an “abstinence-only” approach and students who went through a program that stressed the value of delaying sex, but also included information about birth control.
Here’s a copy of a role playing exercise that is part of the RTR sex education program approved Monday by the Payson School Board.
Narrator: Lee and Lee have been going out for three months, and, although taking it slow, they’ve been getting closer to having sex. They’re sitting on the sofa together, kissing and touching.
Lee: Don’t, Lee. Let’s stop.
Lee: I don’t know. I don’t think I’m ready for this. And we don’t have anything to use for protection.
Lee: Being ready just means we love each other. You do still love me, don’t you?
Lee: You know I do, but what if something happened? What about getting pregnant or getting an infection like HIV?
Lee: We could handle having a baby. It would look just like you — we could name it Lee. I think that’d be great.
Lee: Oh, Lee, I don’t know ...
Lee: Listen, don’t worry about getting pregnant. We can stop before anything happens.
Lee: I don’t think that works.
Lee: What do you mean? Tammy’s not pregnant yet, is she? What do you think they use? Besides, we’re the lucky types. We found each other, didn’t we? How else would two people named Lee get together if somebody wasn’t looking out for us?
Lee: (laughs and kisses Lee) I really do love you, Lee. You’re right — we’re lucky people.
Narrator: Lee and Lee went ahead and had sex without using birth control. Despite Lee’s prediction about stopping in time and being lucky, Lee did get pregnant. She had the baby the night of the sophomore dance — but neither Lee nor Lee went to the dance.
“We were encouraged that sex education is working,” said CDC epidemiologist Trisha Mueller, who led the study.
The survey found a sharp drop in the percentage of kids having sex before they turned 15, including:
• a 59 percent drop among girls.
• a 71 percent drop among boys.
• an 88 percent drop among high-risk groups like urban, African American girls.
Another study by the Guttmacher Institute looked at the difference between “abstinence-only” approaches and programs that mixed training in how to “say no” with information about birth control methods.
The study found that the mixed approach yielded the best results, but even an “abstinence-only” program provided benefits.
The study involved 4,700 people between the ages of 15 and 24 and was authored by Laura Duberstein.
The study showed that both boys and girls who received information about both abstinence and birth control delayed first intercourse significantly longer, were far more likely to use condoms at first intercourse and had what the researchers considered healthier partnerships.
Girls who had abstinence-only instruction also had sex for the first time later than girls who had no sex education classes at all — although they didn’t delay first intercourse as much as the girls in the combination classes.
Moreover, girls in the abstinence-only programs were much less likely to use a condom the first time they had sex than were girls who got information about birth control. The researchers also considered their relationships less “healthy” than those of the girls in the combination classes.
Other research by the Centers for Disease Control concluded that one of the biggest benefits of sex education classes was that it often prompts teenagers to talk to their parents about pregnancy; how to say no; and even consider sexually transmitted diseases in their decision-making process. Open communications with parents translates into a lower pregnancy rate and delayed first sexual intercourse in several studies.
One national CDC study concluded that the overwhelming majority of teenagers now receive some formal sex education before they turn 18, but programs have the biggest effect if students take them before they start having sex.
The study concluded that two-thirds of male teenagers and four out of five female teenagers reported having talked to their parents about sex.
Effects of Teen Pregnancy
• Teen pregnancy costs taxpayers $11 billion annually for increased costs due to medical care, welfare payments, incarceration rates, and lost tax revenue.
• Giving birth as a teenager dramatically increases dropout rates, since only half of teen mothers get a high school diploma by 22 years of age compared to 90 percent of teenaged girls who don’t get pregnant.
• Teenage mothers are far more likely to drop out of school, have health problems, become incarcerated and face unemployment as a young adult.
• The problems teen mothers and their children have with jobs, education, poverty, incarceration, attachment disorders and other social problems remain even after correcting for pre-existing social problems like growing up in poverty, in a single-parent home or having parents with low levels of education.
Source: Centers for Disease Control