Editorial: State’s STD Rate is Growing; Respond by Not Teaching Abstinence
With the rate of sexually transmitted diseases increasing among Colorado teens, we must ensure that our students are taught how to safely and effectively use condoms.
That’s not radical; it’s common sense.
And it’s one of the goals behind House Bill 1032, which is sponsored by Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, Sen. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, and Sen. Don Coram, R-Montrose. The bill bans religious-based or abstinence-only sex education instruction in all publicly funded schools.
Colorado’s academic standards have for a long time been based on a comprehensive health curriculum, but schools have been able to teach abstinence-based programs alongside comprehensive programs, and some rural and charter schools have opted out of health courses completely.
Abstinence education may be fine for some students, but according to the 2017 Healthy Kids Survey, more than 50 percent of high school seniors say they have engaged in sexual activity. History tells us that teens are going to engage in risky behavior whether we talk to them about it or not, but helping teens mitigate the risks associated with their decisions is paramount.
In 2017, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported the highest number in at least a decade of newly reported cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis. And while syphilis cases are predominately reported in older men, chlamydia and gonorrhea disproportionately affect teens and young women.
Just how prevalent are these sexually transmitted diseases that can cause long-term health problems including infertility and birth defects?
From 2013, the rate of chlamydia increased 23 percent to 481 cases per 100,000 people in Colorado and nearly 3,000 of those cases were among teens between the ages of 15 and 19. Gonorrhea was less common in Colorado — 151 cases per 100,000 people — but the disease has spread rapidly since 2013, growing by 182 percent.
While that aspect of the legislation is fairly straightforward, the Colorado Republican Party and other conservatives have raised flags about parts of the bill that would require comprehensive sex education to include information about the experiences and healthy relationships of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals.
We could see why that language would be threatening to religious individuals who would rather their children not talk about sexual orientation in school. However, if our public schools are teaching health education, they must teach all students regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Public schools don’t have the ability, nor should they, to simply ignore a segment of the population they teach.
However, the bill’s sponsors should put the minds of parents at ease and eliminate language they are proposing that specifically excludes gender, gender expression, sexual orientation and healthy relationship programs from the parental notification processes. Yes, those topics are being discussed outside of human sexuality, but we think the law is clear that it is only referring to sex education curriculum without that exclusion.
All Colorado parents like to be informed what their children are learning and have the final say, especially regarding sexual education. A small amendment can ensure that happens.
Colorado’s health education must be inclusive and comprehensive and should be taught in all schools. And as is the case now, parents can opt their children out if they prefer.
The Denver Post editorial board