From Fox’s new hit show “Glee” to the Oscar-winning film “Juno” and Bristol Palin’s GOP public relations nightmare, it seems teenage pregnancy is one consequence of unprotected adolescent sex that American society is finally beginning to openly discuss. Even the White House has chimed in on the issue, with President Obama encouraging schools to provide students with information on both abstinence and contraception in an effort to undo the damage done by the Bush administration’s federally funded abstinence-only sex education.
While the tell-tale baby bumps of teenage motherhood have forced our government and media to admit that adolescents are not only having sex and sometimes without condoms, but the glaring racial disparities in rates of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) call for someone else to wake up – black parents.
According to the latest Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s report, Sexually Transmitted Disease Surveillance, chlamydia and gonorrhea, the two most commonly reported infectious diseases in the U.S., continue to spread. While blacks represent 12 percent of the U.S. population, we account for about 71 percent of reported gonorrhea cases and almost half of all chlamydia and syphilis cases in 2008. What’s even more startling is that black women between the ages of 15 to 19 had the highest rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea.
With ideological beliefs, personal values and the fear of public humiliation influencing many black parents to discourage premarital intercourse, the expectation of pre-adult chasteness doesn’t acknowledge that dirty diapers and crying infants aren’t the only possible outcomes of unsafe sex. The idea that unexpected pregnancy is the worst conceivable result of unprotected sex sends youth the message that as long as a bundle of responsibility doesn’t come along nine months down the line then they’ve managed to play with fire unscathed. But the national STI statistics are telling a different story. Sometimes symptomless and often undetected, contracting chlamydia and gonorrhea may lead to severe health consequences, especially for women.
The CDC estimates that 10 to 20 percent of chlamydia or gonorrhea cases among women can result in pelvic inflammatory disease,, an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes and other reproductive organs. PID can also bring on long-term complications, such as chronic pelvic pain, ectopic pregnancy, a potentially life-threatening form of pregnancy where the fertilized egg is implanted outside the uterus; and infertility. Every year, untreated STIs are estimated to cause at least 24,000 women to become infertile in the United States.
What’s even more saddening is that chlamydia and gonorrhea are two highly treatable bacterial infections that can be cured with antibiotics. But how can sexually active adolescents seek out access to STI prevention services, screening, and treatment when STIs aren’t even on their parent’s radar?
Comprehensive sex education must begin at home. Black youth are engaging in risky sexual behavior and parental denial isn’t doing anything to protect and empower them. Honestly, what is truly gained by encouraging youth to delay sex until they are older, only to have them not know how to protect themselves and their partner today?
When guardians begin to consider and discuss sexual health issues other than teenage pregnancy, then so will the kids.