Let’s talk about sex…in school


March 31st, 2011

Listen Now

Omaha, NE – Your typical Omaha teenager spends about seven and a half hours a day in school, taking classes on various subjects like math, science, and history. But, for the past seven years, there’s been an epidemic in sexually transmitted diseases for many teens living in Douglas County. So, what are teens learning about sex in school?

Your typical Omaha teenager spends about seven and a half hours in school daily, but what are they learning about sex ed? (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The school bell rang, and about 20 sophomores walk in to a Central High School class, earlier this month. The room has computers surrounding six long rectangular tables with chairs along with a sign posted next to the white board that reads “Self-control is knowing you can, but deciding you won’t.” Alexis Grenfell is the health teacher and explained a three day class project to her students.

“We’re going to talking about the consequences of having sex. We’ll be mind mapping consequences of having sex. First thing that you need to keep in mind is that you need kind of a center image.”

JaMesha Mitchell is 16 years-old and during class she worked on her mind map assignment. In the middle of her white paper, spelled out in color pencil, is the word condom.

“That’s why; I put the condom in the middle (as the center image) in order to be safe when you do have sex, if you were to have sex you’d need to be safe, so you won’t catch anything, and you won’t have a side effect of getting pregnant.”

Mitchell is taking a tenth grade, OPS-required health course. Students said they’ve learned about the male and female reproductive system, the different types of abuse and love, and the next unit is the sexually transmitted infections lesson. In 2009, 35 percent of Chlamydia cases and about 26 percent of Gonorrhea cases in Douglas County were reported to come from young people between 15 and 19 years old. The numbers of STD infections overall in Douglas County have risen dramatically in the last decade. And, in 2004, the STD trend was labeled as an epidemic. Dr. Adi Pour is the health director for the DCHD. Pour says in order to stop the epidemic parents, churches, health care providers, government officials and schools must all get involved.

“Schools have been a little bit slower in getting on this. But, I also have to tell you, that schools recognize that they do play a part in it and they try to do what they can under their board of jurisdiction.”

During a recent legislative session in the Nebraska Unicameral, State Senator Brenda Council from Omaha’s northeast district introduced a bill that would mandate age-appropriate sexual health education for all public Nebraska schools. Currently, the Nebraska State Board of Education doesn’t require HIV, STD, or pregnancy prevention education. Instead, sexual health education is left to the individual school districts.

State Senator Council from Omaha’s northeast district introduced a bill that would mandate age appropriate sexual health education. (Photo Courtesy Nebraska Legislature)

“After learning of the number of concerns around the number of STDs, I began meeting to discuss what actions could be taken to address this trend. And, what I’ve heard when I attended those meetings was education, education, education.”

Valda Boyd-Ford is the sexually transmitted infections coordinator for the Douglas County Health Department. She said young people aren’t receiving the education they need to avoid risky sexual behavior.

“Students tell me information they receive from their teachers and parents is pitifully incomplete and woefully out date. They tell me that they lack the pertinent, relevant, age-appropriate information they need. They talk about coercion and date rape,” she said.

“They talk about peer pressure that leads to alcohol and drug use and the subsequent unwanted and unprotected sexual acts that change their futures forever. They cry out for help from knowledgeable people who are not afraid to talk about the world they live in, the realities they deal with,” she added.

The Nebraska Association of School Boards testified in opposition to the bill. A representative said teaching sex education to students should be a partnership with the school, parents and the community. In fact, it is directly stated on their website: “Schools by themselves cannot, and should not be expected to, address the nation’s most serious health and social problems.”

Greg Schleppenbach with the Nebraska Catholic Conference also opposed the bill. He referred to a 2005 Nebraska survey about risky youth behaviors. “It’s found that young people are two to four times more likely to use alcohol and other drugs if parents show any acceptance of alcohol use. Are we to believe that this phenomenon does not apply to sexual activity?”

Schleppenbach also said, “In my observations and the study of young people today, it’s clear to me that they are capable of and they desire self-control in this important area of their lives.”

“And they want their parent’s and society’s help to achieve it rather than be abandon to the mediocrity of risk reduction strategies – strategies that don’t even report to address the emotional, physiological and spiritual consequences of sexual activity.”

In 2009, 35% of Chlamydia cases and about 26% of Gonorrhea cases in Douglas County, Nebraska were reported to come from young people between 15 and 19 years old. (Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

As class is ending, JaMesha Mitchell said she knows kids who are not practicing safe sex.

“I have cousins that are sexually active but they do use protection. So far, that I know of.”

Mitchell also said she understands that getting pregnant is a big consequence of having sex.

“I think this class is actually good for education,” she said. “I’m happy that we have it in high school… because I think we need it.” “A lot of teens that you see that are pregnant or that already have a kid in middle school, which is not a smart thing.”

Mitchell added, “I think (teen pregnancy is) also parent’s fault because they don’t sit down and talk to their kids about what you need to be safe.”

But for now, lessons learned by many students will remain the same, at least in school, as no additional action has been taken on Council’s bill.

Click here for the real numbers of the STD epidemic in Douglas County.

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