The city of Philadelphia is trying to address their soaring STD problem in certain high schools. When kids return to school next week, 22 of the 40 high schools, will have a free condom dispenser in the nurses office.
Parents who don't want their kids to receive free condoms can tell the school and their kids will be denied. All others can help themselves. Officials say in 2010 they saw a 50% explosion in the rate of gonorrhea and chlamydia among high school students. In response they started takecontrolphilly.org which offers free condoms through a mail order system. They say 2011 saw a 6% drop in STD's and have decided to make condom access even easier. As Philadelphia's Health Commisioner Dr Donald Shwarz tells the Daily News;
“Less than 60 percent of kids who are sexually active report having used condoms the last time they had sex. We want to get to that 40 percent who haven’t used a condom.”
Here in SC we are awash in STD's! And it's really like an SEC battle with only Louisiana and Mississippi toppin us in the gonorrhea and chlamydia stats. DHEC says we're also top 10 in the nation for HIV The city of Columbia is the #6 city in the nation for AIDS following New Orleans, and Baltimore. The worst county in our state is also one of the worst in the nation. In Richland county 1400 people die of AIDS in a typical year. Something clearly needs to be done!
I don't think the something is free condoms though. I can already hear my detractors screaming 'if even one life can be saved'. And that's the thing. I don't think a bucket full of free condoms would save even 1 life. Like we heard from the Doctor in Philly their goal by handing out free condoms to all the kids is to get 60% to wear them. 40% don't care that they're free and would rip them off if someone put it on for them! Buying condoms is no longer a shame filled adventure in clumsiness that it was for people of my age and older. You would buy like 8 other things at the same time with the condoms buried in the middle of it all and never make eye contact with the clerk. They're not terribly expensive either. It's like .50 cents for one. Or 4 quarters if you decide to buy one in the comfort of most mens rooms. If a guy can't afford a condom, chances are high he can't afford a girl.
I believe young people have soaring STD rates for the same reason they lead the nation in DUI's and just about every other stat that involves doing something stupid. They're stupid. I don't mean to imply that only stupid people catch STD's. I know some highly intelligent people who have STD's. But they got them when they were young, doing things they shouldn't be doing. And they knew they shouldn't be doing it either! Part of growing up is realizing you're not invincible. The friends I lost to drunk driving, knew they shouldn't do it, and had free rides from sober people, but it was more fun to try it drunk.
So am I suggesting we just let kids keep getting sick? Of course not. I am suggesting education. The better an education is in general, the better the STD rates become. Notice in Philly they're only targeting 22 of their 40 schools. Those are also the 22 worst performing schools academically.
Let's take a look at SC. Greenville/Spartenburg counties (745,986) is a bit larger than Richland/Lexington counties (656,245). But here in Richland/Lexington we have a lot more HIV cases! About 1700 HIV cases a year compared to their 1000. When you look at the counties that lead the state in HIV it's the ones with the struggling schools. In ranking the 75 school districts in SC Barnwell ranks 69. It has an HIV rate of 362.3. Lee County ranks 72 and has an HIV rate of 373.3. Looking at the top school districts you also see a significant drop in STD's. Counties like Anderson, York, Abbeville and Dorchester all have HIV rates at 100 or below. It's not how rich a community is either. Anderson county median household income is $36,000 and 12% live below the poverty line, pretty much matching Richland County with our median household income of $39,361 and 13% living below the poverty line. Yet Anderson has an HIV rate of 75.9 and Richland has a rate of 430.5!
Maybe you think it's more of the density of the population. After all Anderson, York and Dorchester have a lot more space. Richland county is about twice as dense as those counties. But Greenville county is more dense than Richland 571 per sq mile compared to Richland's 509 per sq mile. They only have 1 school district for their 72,000 students and that district is ranked #16. Richland Two with their 25,000 students is ranked #20, but Richland One's 25,000 students get a very sad ranking of 55. The common factor I see between high STD's is education. And not just locally. As I mentioned earlier SC, Louisiana, and Mississippi are the 3 highest ranked states for STD's. Those states rank 48,49 & 50 on public education.
I believe that part of a great education comes when teachers help students understand how to make a decision. The factors to be weighed, and the effect emotions can play too. A 6th grade girl may want to do an art project on Justin Bieber because that's where her heart is, but if she recognizes that doing what she wants isn't always the best choice and instead decides to do an art project on Monet because that is her teachers favorite, she increases her chances of getting a good grade.
In addition to making better over all decisions, I think it's important to scare the crap out of kids if they make the wrong decisions. In my HS in the early 80's we were shown cars, and photographs of people who were killed while drunk driving. It may have deterred some. Future generations got talks from parents of kids who died while drunk driving. Then schools started bringing in people who had ruined their lives drunk driving who are about the same age as the kids they're talking to. DUI's among people under 21 has dropped by 63% the past 20 years. I'd like to see schools bring in young alcoholics and drug addicts too.
When a 15 year old meets a 15 year old who isn't expecting to live to 16 because they had unprotected sex that's the kind of education that sticks with them. And it's not just STD's. I'd like to see schools bring in sex addicts. Yes I said it. Sex addicts. They really exist, it isn't a joke and lots of them ruin their lives not just with STD's but in a myriad of ways. Bring in a 17 year old to tell their story about how they began having sex at an early age and suddenly needed to spice it up more and more till they were arrested for a lewd act and kicked out of school and disowned by their parents and live in a shelter. Too many people ruin their lives before they're 20 and a condom or lack there, of wasn't the cause. Just saying "teens are going to have sex, and we have to help keep them safe" is one of the weakest denial's of responsibility imaginable.
Some may be saying this is a subject that should be dealt with at home, not the school. I would say schools are supposed to give kids an education that prepares them for life. In a perfect world that would be academia only, and parents would teach not only life skills, but morals and every thing else required to grow in to a well adjusted person. But that's not happening in a lot of homes, and it's hurting all of us. When a child's life is ended or ruined by something stupid they have done, we have lost another desperately needed member of society. America is on the verge of collapse because we don't have enough young people in the pipeline. America is at an all time low on birth rates. We are heading towards a society where we have more people over 80 than under 30. With increased life spans, and not enough young people working it becomes an unsupportable system. Well that's a conversation for another blog. But we can all agree every young person is valuable and we need to do all we can to protect them from themselves and each other till they're mature enough to make decisions in their best interest. Like most problems I don't think you can just throw money, or in this case condoms, at it and fix it.