On May 24th, Rollingout.com posted the list of the Top 25 cities with HIV and AIDS rates. Coming in at number three, Jacksonville FL, my hometown. In fact, 6 of the geographical locations on the list of 25 cities were located in Florida. It is not shocking news that the Deep South leads in the number of cases of HIV and AIDS. This has been public knowledge for quite some time and people have been reporting on it for years. The real question is, why aren’t these numbers going down?
In my 7th grade Biology class we were required to have a two-week class on Sex Education. Immature and naïve, we all giggled thinking that we would see a teacher put a condom on a banana. In reality, we had two weeks of fear. We were shown images of genital warts, told that sex was not to be had until marriage, and that AIDS leads to death which is caused by sex. Over and over again we were slammed with the concept of Abstinence with a capital A because that was the only choice. I guess the public school system decided that if we were all virgins until we were married, no one would get HIV.
I have two words for you, Florida Department of Education: Ha. Ha.
While I personally wasn’t sexually active in 7th grade (dear god, I cannot imagine), I had classmates who did the deed as early as the 8th grade. Sex was on our minds. We live in a culture where sex is everywhere. Have you seen that ridiculous burger commercial where the over-sexualized woman in a bikini eats a burger while washing a car? I’m not actually sure about the car washing part but that is how it feels: dirty and sexual. Children are exposed to this culture in the media every day and they are not stupid.
Let’s put it this way: if we are hitting puberty anywhere from ages 9-16, we are thinking about sex and that is biology (although my 7th grade teacher refused to admit so). So it is improbable that we will think that abstinence is the best thing for us at this age or really any of the following years.
In my sophomore year of high school, it was no better. My teacher, with his slow, thick, southern accent (this just adds to the hilarious image), went full on Mean Girls on us and told us that we would die if we had sex. If we had sex, we would literally die. An EDUCATOR told a group of 16 year olds that they would die from sex. At this point, a quarter of the room had already had sex and could attest that they, in fact, did not die and those of us who had not knew that this was laughable. And laugh we did. He told us that if his son had sex or brought a girl home pregnant, it would be the end. Not once did my teacher tell us that there were ways to prevent such pregnancies and ways to have SAFE SEX.
Yes, it’s true, educators of Florida. Safe sex is what you have when you are being responsible. The fact remains: teens have sex. This novel concept of teaching kids to NOT have sex until they are married is bogus. We all know it. Just like you did at 17, we all felt the same urges and we all were just as confident that it was the right choice.
How about instead of teaching our children that sex is the work of the devil, we teach kids how to do what they are going to do as safely as possible. How about we teach the future generation of America that sex is not something you play around with, but once you do, you must use protection.
According to Florida State Statute 1003.46 Health Education; Instruction in Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome,
“(1) Each district school board may provide instruction in acquired immune deficiency syndrome education as a specific area of health education. Such instruction may include, but is not limited to, the known modes of transmission, signs and symptoms, risk factors associated with acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and means used to control the spread of acquired immune deficiency syndrome. The instruction shall be appropriate for the grade and age of the student and shall reflect current theory, knowledge, and practice regarding acquired immune deficiency syndrome and its prevention.
(2) Throughout instruction in acquired immune deficiency syndrome, sexually transmitted diseases, or health education, when such instruction and course material contains instruction in human sexuality, a school shall:
(a) Teach abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age students while teaching the benefits of monogamous heterosexual marriage.
(b) Emphasize that abstinence from sexual activity is a certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, including acquired immune deficiency syndrome, and other associated health problems.
(c) Teach that each student has the power to control personal behavior and encourage students to base actions on reasoning, self-esteem, and respect for others.
(d) Provide instruction and material that is appropriate for the grade and age of the student.”
I want to highlight a point that this statute is making: Abstinence.
(May I also point out that they specifically aim to teach that a monogamous heterosexual marriage is the only way to be safe? That’s another story for another day though.)
People are dying and suffering from HIV and AIDS. We cannot let the idea of “abstinence is the way” be what our children are raised on. Adolescents should understand the benefits of birth control, understand how to be safe, and understand that sex will not kill you. Adults and educators alike shake their heads at another teen pregnancy and blame someone other than themselves. How often did these pregnant girls think that “pulling out” was enough or that they would “be alright just this once”? The concept of abstinence is harming the people with 1,728 cases in just Duval County in the year 2012, this is something we cannot afford to avoid talking about.
For More Information/Sources:
To view a map of The United States by the CDC, color coated with affected areas: http://gis.cdc.gov/GRASP/NCHHSTPAtlas/main.html
For more information on HIV/AIDS: http://www.cdc.gov/
Jacksonville Based News Article: http://www.news4jax.com/news/jacksonville-ranked-third-in-nation-in-hivaids-rates/26216982
Rollingout.com’s List: http://rollingout.com/health/top-25-cities-high-hivaids-rate/
Florida DEO’s Sex Education Information: http://www.fldoe.org/bii/cshp/Education/HIV_STD/policies.asp
Article in The Nation addressing this issue: http://www.thenation.com/blog/177506/deep-south-latest-epicenter-hiv-epidemic#
University of Michigan information on puberty: http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/puberty.htm