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Protection Teens Are Still Not Getting

Angie Vineyard

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The epidemic of teen STDs. The numbers are nothing short of staggering.

This year alone, 15.3 million Americans will contract a new sexually transmitted disease, or STD, some of which have no cure. Of those, 2 million to 4 million of the infected will be teenagers. That means every day, 8,000 teens will become infected with a new STD. One STD, herpes, has skyrocketed 500 % in the last 20 years among White American teenagers. In fact, one in five children over age 12 tests positive for herpes type 2, which has no cure. Almost 50 % of African-American teenagers have genital herpes, also with no cure. Nearly one out of ten teenage girls has chlamydia and half of all newly diagnosed chlamydia cases are in girls 15 to 19 years old.

This is not a crisis. It's an epidemic. And that's exactly what Dr. Meg Meeker has titled her new book, "Epidemic: How Teen Sex is Killing Our Kids."

Having treated thousands of patients for 20 years, Meeker found an enormous surge in STDs not just with low-income teens but also with teens from middle and higher-income families. And while a shot of penicillin four decades ago cured the only two known STDs, syphilis and gonorrhea, today the CDC has identified at least 25 STDs and termed this frightening trend a "multiple" epidemic.

Meeker puts faces on the harrowing numbers by weaving first-hand patient accounts with shocking statistics. Lori, taken into the emergency room with a high fever and intense abdominal pain, was initially diagnosed with acute appendicitis. She had a life threatening case of pelvic inflammatory disease, caused by either chlamydia or gonorrhea. While Lori pulled through, she will probably never bear children. Alex contracted genital herpes at the age of 17. A year later, he had sunk into such a deep depression that he became suicidal. And then there's Heather, who despite using oral contraceptives, contracted human papilloma virus, HPV, and at 19, was diagnosed with cervical cancer and had to have part of her cervix removed.

Sadly, these teens bought into the prevailing cultural myth. For decades, we've held up that shiny foil packet as the quick-fix solution for our hormone-driven adolescents. Kids have been told that, of course, they are going to have sex and they need protection. They need a condom. And they've listened. Condom use among adolescents has soared in recent years. Public officials gushed when they learned that condom use among sexually active teen boys has jumped from 21% to a whopping 67% in the last 20 years. The condom indoctrination has worked!

But while condom use has reduced the risk for teen pregnancy and the spread of HIV, the National Institutes of Health declared that there was not enough evidence to determine that male latex condoms were effective in reducing the risk of most other sexually transmitted diseases. HPV, the fastest growing STD in America today is directly responsible for 99.7% of cervical cancer cases. But the NIH's Condom Report stated that "condoms have no impact on the risk of sexual transmission of human papilloma virus in women."

Meeker writes, "Condoms, the only form of birth control purported to stop disease and the spread of STDs, don't work. (They) have lulled us into complacency too long. They have provided a stopgap measure that can no longer hold back the flood of STDs. Our reliance on condoms has played a key role in the spread of disease."

Meeker has not been tapped by the Bush Administration to push abstinence-only education in America's public schools. She is not a conservative spokesperson for pro-family organizations paid to decry the ills of risky sexual behavior and condom distribution. She is a physician, who stares into the eyes of scared teenagers every day, telling them they have STDs that are incurable and helping them cope with the depression that ensues. She has placed herself on the front lines of this sexual revolution and she's cleaning up the mess we've made in telling our teenagers that sex is O.K., as long as they wear a condom.

But physicians aren't the only ones noticing this epidemic. Teachers are also paying attention. Just this month the Philadelphia, PA school district announced it would offer free screenings and treatment to more than 50,000 students for STDs. Officials estimate that in the month of December alone, 3,000 teens in this district will test positive for chlamydia, which if left untreated, can lead to infertility or be passed on to newborns.

Perhaps this epidemic is what propels people like Scott Phelps to alert teachers and students nationwide to the pitfalls of STDs, the empty promise of "safe" sex and the benefits of abstinence.

"You're 16 or 17 years old and you get genital herpes. Has no cure. (You) have it for the rest of your life. When you're 26, 27 and you meet someone you want to marry, you're all excited. Is the herpes going to be a problem?" he asked recently at a Washington D.C. teacher training session sponsored by the non-profit abstinence group, Project Reality. "Abstinence is about freedom, to live your life and your future the way you want to live it without having to get handcuffed and drag that stuff with you for the rest of your life."

As teachers scribbled down notes, one school nurse paid special attention to the statistics given. Having worked in the D.C. area for six years, she's seen hundreds of cases of STDs and teen pregnancies. But she is part of a growing trend of teachers who are weary of the toll teen sex has taken on adolescents.

"Most of us see abstinence as a very important choice," she said, asking to remain anonymous.

Project Reality's abstinence program has been taught to 42,000 students in the state of Illinois alone and is spreading to 25 other states.

Besides a renewed popularity in abstinence education, Phelps believes this epidemic will also produce a deluge of lawsuits from angry parents whose teenagers bargained for "safe" sex but got STDs instead.

"If I tell a kid 'If you're sexually active, make sure you use a condom' and he does that and he gets HPV and he comes back in 3 years and says, 'I did this'. What am I going to say? I'm going to feel responsible, guilty and liable."

Lawsuits? "I'm surprised it hasn't happened already."

Copyright 2002 Concerned Women of America. Reprinted with permission. This article can be found on the Concerned Women of America website.



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