After reading Alexis Bechman’s May 11 article titled “County in Poor Health,” it is apparent that the social and behavioral determinants of health are overlooked in Gila County with respect to both end-of-life care intensity and sexual health of teens. I am a proponent of more research in the area of health care for the aging — I believe it is still an underrepresented population in the American health system, but what really made me want to sit down and write this op-ed piece is the statistic about teen pregnancy and infant mortality.
To be blunt and clear: abstinence-only sexual “education” is ineffective, unrealistic, and a disservice to our youth. Payson teenagers are having sex. If Payson teenagers are not having sex, Payson teenagers are curious about having sex.
Knowing this fact, I am curious as to why there is no comprehensive sexual education offered to high school students in Payson? Oh wait, I know. Religion. I am aware the main focus of abstinence-only instruction is that it “teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.” This statement is bathed in religion — and whether it is the “expected standard” or not, or “right” or “wrong,” is beside the point. Our teenagers are still having sex and going to have sex, so why not arm them with education and resources?
In general, our American health care system is very reactive, as opposed to preventive. If you have a chronic disease, your reaction is probably to visit the ER frequently and you might have a laundry list of medications to take daily. But what was done to prevent the chronic disease in the first place?
For Gila County, we need education on how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy, and infant mortality. An honest and intellectual approach to doing this is to teach comprehensive sexual education. If you don’t believe this, consider one of Ms. Bechman’s quotes, “Gila County has a consistently high teen pregnancy rate ...”
If abstinence-only education consistently leads to an increase in teen pregnancies in Gila County — four times above the national average — something must change.
If my religious-controversy-equals-no-comprehensive-sexual-education assumption is off base, and the counter argument is not about religion and say, the budget, I am more than happy to fly to Arizona, with my Master of Public Health education and colleagues in tow for the attractive price of zero dollars, to conduct a comprehensive sexual education course for students and separately for their parents. As a 2005 Payson High School graduate, consider this my giving back of something I wish was offered to me when I was 15.
For now I will stick to the 1980s ... I’m guessing we’re not quite ready to address a 2012 topic of sexual health for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender teens.
Tina E. Jackson