EDITOR: Youth across the globe including the Caribbean are impacted by choices they make regarding their sexual health. Teen pregnancy, viewed by some as the direct consequence of teen sexual activity is merely the tip of the iceberg. The epidemic rates of Sexually Transmitted Infections and the sequelae of the diseases which these infections cause is a major health concern most especially in the 15 – 19-year-old age group. Additionally teen sexual activity is also associated with increased rates of depression, suicide and long-term poverty.
In an attempt to mitigate these problems, it is important to acknowledge that it is in fact teen sexual activity that is at the root of the issue. Unsafe sexual practices, failed condoms, or other failed contraceptives are not the culprit. As such we must arm our youth with the knowledge and the skills that they need to avoid engaging in teen sexual activity and other risk behaviours that can have a potentially ominous effect on their futures.
The debate over how to approach this issue has been a topic of debate in many nations for the past several decades. The American College of Paediatricians (ACP) and the National Physicians Center (NPC) both promote Abstinence-centered or Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) as the best public health approach. The ACP recommends that all children be taught to abstain from sexual activity.
In fact, effective Sexual Risk Avoidance (abstinence-centered) educational programs reduce teen pregnancy by approximately 50%. Increased SRA programs in the US have been cited as being responsible for at least half of the decrease in teen pregnancy.
Clearly abstinent teens avoid sexually transmitted diseases and corresponding medical costs, a lesser-known fact is that abstinent teens are nearly three times less likely to be depressed or to attempt suicide than their sexually active counterparts.
Studies prove that investing in sexual risk avoidance (abstinence- centered) education is a cost savings for taxpayers. Providing youth with the skills to wait to have sex is easier and less expensive than treating youth for the possible consequences of teen sex. Teens who avoid these consequences are more likely to be successful in reaching their goals. Students who abstain from all risky behaviours are more likely to achieve their goals, more likely to succeed academically, less likely to live in poverty and more likely to have successful long-term relationships.
Today’s teens encounter unprecedented pressures from all sides to engage in sexual activity.
Media, the culture in general, and even sex education classes too often communicate a message that encourages sexual experimentation and downplays the risks associated with that behaviour.
Parents are often informed that so-called “Comprehensive” Sex Education (CSE) programs offer the best approach to address this problem. In reality, these programs often add to the problem by promoting curricula that normalises teen sex. The CSE approach ignores a needed priority on risk avoidance and, instead, primarily focuses on merely reducing the physical risks of teen sex, without adequately addressing the many other possible consequences of that activity.
The CSE approach has been the mainstay of sex education for decades in the United States, receiving the lion’s share of all funding even though research results for this approach are dismal, particularly in the school setting. During this same time, STD rates have skyrocketed while condom use has increased. Emotional consequences to teen sex also persist, yet the message remains focused simply on increasing condom use, rather than decreasing sexual activity. Today, a mistaken and dubious view argues that bringing this failed approach to other nations including the Caribbean will yield better results. (The website stopcse.org contains analysis and information on CSE and its content and dismal impact globally.)
The Sexual Risk Avoidance (SRA) approach, sometimes called the Abstinence-centered approach, is effective, supported by parents, and is a message that more and more teens are adopting in their own lives. SRA programs address teen sexual activity from a holistic standpoint, recognising that possible consequences far exceed pregnancy and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases (STD). Therefore, SRA provides teens with multifaceted information and skills that will help them avoid all the risks associated with teen sex. It mirrors the effective public health approach of primary prevention most often followed in addressing other youth risks, such as tobacco, alcohol and drug use. When parents and educators understand SRA, they are overwhelmingly supportive.
Submitted by: The Elpis Centre elpiscentre