Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rubber Soul

By Conrad Spencer

Last week, the Oklahoma State Department of Health released its annual State of the State's Health report and most media outlets reported the things we already know -- we Okies eat too much, smoke too much, sit on our asses too much and suffer all the health complications you would expect.

Buried in the report is a startling tidbit that got very little notice, but should have, regarding why our teen birth rate, though declining, is still above the national average:

"About 50 percent of our high school students are sexually active, about the same level of activity as the nation. Our high teen birth rate relates in part to the fact that 63 percent of sexually active students nationally regularly use condoms, compared to only 33 percent in Oklahoma."

I thought this might be an indictment of abstinence-only education, but when I went looking around the Internet for information about sex education curriculum in Oklahoma, I found there's no information available. I did find news of a coalition, comprised of the Oklahoma Family Policy Council and the Oklahoma Baptist General Convention, among others, that supports "the expansion of abstinence-only education in Oklahoma," but I found nothing that actually described sex ed in Oklahoma classrooms.

When I was in high school a decade ago, my biology and physiology classes each provided a thorough sex education component, but then I had excellent teachers who probably pushed the envelope a bit in what they taught. I would not expect that my experience 10 years ago is representative of most kids in Oklahoma today.

The lack of information on the issue -- the deafening silence in the media, in schools, from state leaders -- is emblematic of the problem. I don't know if we teach an abstinence-only curriculum, but I do know that the conservative climate in our state hinders open and frank discussion. Whatever is (or isn't) taught in schools, or whatever the reason our kids use condoms at only half the rate of their peers, it's nothing we want to talk about.


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