Teens Take Different Approaches to ‘Supercharged’ World of Sex
The Los Angeles Times today profiles two California "teen activists" with "diverge[nt]" views on sex education: Jonathan Knepper, who is part of an acting troupe that presents a play emphasizing abstinence, and Mahshid Rezapour, who lobbies lawmakers and school officials for more comprehensive sex education. The Times notes that although the two hold different views, "they share a common experience: living in a supercharged world that treats sex like a weekend hobby." A recent CDC survey found that in 1999 one of every two U.S. high school students had had sex at least once, a "small decrease" from 1991. Condom use increased from 46% of students to 58% over the same period, the study found. Researchers disagree about which factor -- decreased sexual activity or increased contraceptive use -- is more responsible for the "good news" that teen birth rates declined across the 1990s. The Times reports that California schools are required by law to emphasize abstinence as the only completely effective method of preventing pregnancy or disease transmission, although they also discuss the effectiveness rates of contraception methods and must separately teach about AIDS prevention.
But a study conducted by Rezapour and other students found "teenagers crying out for more information," with more than half of the 515 California teens questioned saying that contraceptive information should also receive coverage in sex education classes, and 13% saying classes should primarily emphasize abstinence until marriage. The survey, done in conjunction with the not-for-profit California Center for Civic Participation and Youth Development, also found that 95% of the teens felt that more information on safe sex should be available at school-based health clinics; 90% felt contraception information should be available; and 74% said information on abortion should be included. "I think it is invalid to scare kids with only a message of abstinence. You have to meet them halfway," Rezapour said. By contrast, Knepper -- one of six actors in a "sometimes shocking" play called "No Way to Treat a Lady," which "explores the consequences of sex" -- spends "virtually every waking moment outside of school" promoting abstinence. Speaking recently to teen audience members after a performance, he noted, "The farther you go, the harder it is to go back" (Helfand, Los Angeles Times, 6/6).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.