While teen pregnancy rates have declined steadily, sexually transmitted disease rates among California's youth ages 15-19 are increasing, says the California Family Health Council (CFHC). According to the latest data from the California Department of Public Health, teens and young adults have the highest rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia of all age groups in California.
"California is experiencing a near public health crisis with STD rates among teens rising to alarming levels," said Julie Rabinovitz, CFHC President. "By providing sexually active teens and their parents with the tools they need to prevent STDs and unintended pregnancy, we are hoping to move the needle in the right direction. We are thrilled that we now have the capacity to expand this valuable resource for teens in San Diego and Fresno counties."
In 2011, more than a quarter of California's chlamydia diagnoses occurred in teens age 15 to 19. That age group also represented 18 percent of all gonorrhea cases in California. The counties most recently added to the program have some of the highest teen STD rates in the state.
Related: 7 tips for having "The Talk" with your kids
The Condom Access Project allows teens in seven designated STD "hot-spot" counties to go online and confidentially request a package of 10 condoms, personal lubricant (to reduce breakage), and educational information up to one time per month for free. The program, which began in February 2011, has sent approximately 30,000 condoms to teens via home mailers. The program also provides free condoms through 65 youth-serving organizations throughout the state.
Officials at the CFHC say that despite the broad availability of condoms in retail settings, teens continue to face many barriers to accessing condoms, "including embarrassment and concerns related to confidentiality, cost and accessibility."
Obviously, not everyone is thrilled with the program.
"I would ask parents the question, 'Who should be making decisions for the best welfare of your child - you as a parent, or the state, who has no direct connection, has no understanding, has no relationship with your child?'" San Diego-area pastor Chris Clark said to CNN.
Everything about this situation is sad: that kids as young as 12 are having sex, that so many teens are having unprotected sex and acquiring STDs, that this entire program is necessary. That anyone who is too embarrassed to buy condoms at the local drug store thinks he or she is in any way ready for sex.
Of course parents should be making decisions for the best welfare of their children. But I think we all know that not every parent actually does that.
In an ideal world, all parents would be educating their kids about sex, and instilling their own values. Parents would, at the very least, explain basic bodily functions to their kids. But they don't. How do I know this? Because when I was in 5th Grade, and our school nurse gave us the "period talk," it was news to many of the girls. Thirty years later, my twin daughters received the same talk in school, and menstruation was news to many of their classmates. It. Was. News.
If some parents can't even manage to talk to their kids about menstruation, can we reasonably expect that they're going to counsel their kids on premarital sex? Menstruation isn't even an issue of values; you can't abstain from it. It's just going to happen.
Parents who are actively involved in their children's lives, who have, as Pastor Clark says, a direct connection, an understanding, and a relationship with their child, probably don't have to worry that their kids are ordering condoms on the sly. For example, our family computer is in our living room. I'd notice if my 12-year-old was ordering condoms. And, I'd notice if my child received a package in the mail. (Privacy be damned - I open anything that isn't from their aunties or grandparents.)
Every day, there are parents who abdicate their responsibility to teach their children. These parents do leave that teaching, and those decisions, to the state, in the form of public education and public health initiatives. What else can society do? Hope that all parents miraculously start paying attention to their kids? In every way, the cost would be too great.
-By Joslyn Gray
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