STDs Remain a Challenge for High School Kids

STD, pregnancy prevention and sex ed stalls in U.S. schools — CDC

April is the cruelest month, indeed. That is, in terms of sex education. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has tagged April as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD) Awareness month in a bid to call attention to the impact of STDs and to promote STD testing across the country.

But on this month, a CDC study found that U.S. middle and high schools have not made significant advances in sex education in the last five years — despite the fact that teenagers and young adults are the very people who are particularly vulnerable to STDs.

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) are infections that you can get from having sex with someone who has the infection. Caused by bacteria, parasites and viruses, there are more than 20 types of STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, syphilis, trichomoniasis and human papillomavirus (HPV), and the human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or HIV/AIDS.

The last two can be deadly — HPV causes cervical and anal cancer, while HIV/AIDS has no cure and although new medicines can help people live with the disease for many years, it typically ends in death. This is why the CDC’s warning for STD month is: “STDs primarily affect young people, but the health consequences can last a lifetime.”

Right now, young people between 15 and 24 years old account for nearly half of all STD cases — and healthcare providers and teachers can help slash the number of cases by teaching young people about sexual health and STD prevention.

But the researchers at the CDC found that the country’s schools aren’t moving forward when it comes to teaching middle and high school students about how to protect themselves from STDs and HIV, as well as how to prevent pregnancies.

In fact, in some places, the researchers say, the teaching is actually regressing. Their findings were published in the April 6 issue of the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

With nearly half of all high school students sexually active, the CDC researchers maintain that it’s necessary to make sex-ed a part of education again.

“Little progress has been made in the proportion of middle and high schools that offer education on the prevention of HIV, many STDs, and pregnancy,” Laura Kann, study coauthor and a CDC researcher, tells WebMD. “We are heading in the wrong direction.”

For the report, the CDC investigators:
• Analyzed data from public middle and high schools in 45 states collected as part of the School Health Profiles, a biennial survey that measures school health practices. The data used was from the survey conducted between 2008 and 2010.
• Looked at the percentage of middle schools and high schools in each of the 45 states that teach specific sex-ed topics — HIV, STDs and pregnancy prevention — in a course that students are required to take.
• Recognize that their analysis is limited in that it relies only on public schools (no private schools in the survey) and reports from school principals.

The investigators found that between 2008 and 2010:
• None of the states marked an increase in the number of schools offering sex education in a required course for middle school (6th, 7th and 8th grade) students.
• 11 states even reported a drop in the percentage of schools offering sex education in a required course for middle school students.
• Among high schools (grades 9-12), one state experienced a drop in the percentage of schools teaching the sex-ed topics, while two states saw increases in the percentage over the two-year period.