Tuesday, June 22, 2004

STD scourge an epidemic among teens

Click here to e-mail Peter Bronson
Paper cups of water are handed to a crowd of teens, and each is asked to take a sip, then spit it back into his cup. Then all the cups are poured into one glass and the class is asked: Who wants to drink it?

It's a vivid way to teach the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, said Donna Phelps, president of Healthy Beginnings pregnancy care centers. "They're asked to look in the bottom of the cup. That represents all the bacteria and viruses that transmit STDs. Would you want to sleep with someone who had all that?"

That's a question more people need to ask.

At six Healthy Beginnings clinics in Cincinnati, 95 percent of the pregnant mothers have STDs, Phelps said.

Dr. Judith Daniels, medical director for the Cincinnati Health Department, said, "We have a fairly high rate compared to other Ohio cities, but we do more testing than the average urban area."

The most common STDs are chlamydia and gonorrhea, she said. "Gonorrhea can present surgical emergencies. Some victims are rendered sterile. Chlamydia is associated with infertility and has increased over the last two years."

Rod Tooson, who teaches abstinence in Cincinnati Public Schools, has another way to make the point. "We ask students how many know a teen parent, and every hand goes up. Then we ask them how many know someone who has an STD, and not as many hands go up."

But far more kids have STDs than babies, he said. "STDs are going up at the same time teen pregnancy is going down.

"We put the fear in 'em," Tooson said, "and they say 'I'm never having sex again.' But the fear only lasts about a week."

Here's another reason STDs are out of control: Teens have been taught by our culture that oral sex is not sex - although it transmits STDs. They are seduced with a relentless background music of sex in media and entertainment. And when they think of STDs at all, they think of the disease that gets all the attention, AIDS.

But all HIV cases in Ohio (854) don't equal one-fourth the Hamilton County cases of gonorrhea. For every case of AIDS in Ohio this year, there were 21 cases of chlamydia in Hamilton County in 2002 (latest reports).

"When you and I were in high school, one out of every 50 people we knew had an STD," said Phelps. "It's now one in every three.

Syphilis was the STD of the 1960s, and it was curable. Today, it's almost unheard of, replaced by more than 30 new STDs - and nearly a third are incurable.

Tooson says his United Way agency, SUMA, could use more help. Health classes are required, he said, but he and another abstinence educator reach only half of the high schools in Cincinnati Public Schools.

His message is, "Say no and mean it," he said. "It's the only 100 percent method to keep from getting pregnant or contracting an STD."

Phelps says, "Abstinence programs are working. Condoms don't work."

But pro-abortion groups that push the myth of "safe sex" are opposing emphasis on abstinence.

Telling teens that condoms are safe is like telling them they can drink and drive as long as they wear a seat belt, or saying, "Kids are going to smoke anyway, so let's teach them use a filter-tipped brand."

That advice isn't worth a warm cup of spit.


E-mail pbronson@enquirer.com or call 768-8301.

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