MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Starting just this week, schools in Philadelphia took what some see as a radical step to stop the spread of sexually transmitted diseases among teenagers. They're installing condom dispensers in schools. The idea is to promote safer sex. Could a similar plan help decrease STD rates in Shelby County?
The numbers are staggering. Consider the latest statistics from the Shelby County Health Department: 7 percent of all newly diagnosed HIV cases are youngsters between the ages of 15 and 24, and overall cases of STD's here are 4 times the national average.
Those in the health community believe education is key to bringing those numbers down. Whether folks want to hear it or not, they believe it's a discussion that should happen not only a home, but school as well..
Barry Chase, CEO of Planned Parenthood Memphis, states it plainly. The best way to stop the spread of STD's in Shelby County is through education.
"It's ridiculous to assume that children don't get any influence from media, from television, from movies, from books, from their friends. Unfortunately the information they get is distorted and incorrect and where we have an opportunity to give them the correct information to lead healthier lives we turn our backs on our children."
In Shelby County, 15 to 24 year olds make up:
- 73 percent of newly diagnosed cases of Chlamydia
- 71 percent of gonorrhea cases
- 9 percent of syphilis cases
- 7 percent of new HIV cases
Cedric Robinson with the Shelby County Health Department says more teens are engaging in risky sexual behavior.
"You have people who don't use protection on a regular basis, people who have multiple sex partners, people who don't take the time to really know the history of their sex partners."
Tennessee law requires schools to teach "family life education", which emphasizes abstinence from sex outside of marriage. But, the discussion ends there.
"We've tried to work with lawmakers; unfortunately the majority of the law makers in the Tennessee legislature are very, very conservative, very much opposed to sex education of any kind, very much opposed to information of any kind reaching our children," Chase said.
The "Be Proud, Be Responsible! Memphis" program aims to give kids information to make smart choices.
"My philosophy is don't grow up too fast," advised teen Warren Jenkins. "Your parents try to warn you but some kids just don't listen."
Corey Johnson added, "The opportunity can be huge in this community, if we can get this information out."
Despite the alarming statistics the debate about sex education in schools will no doubt continue. If any changes in curriculum were to happen, it would most likely have to start with lawmakers in Nashville.
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