Study shows divergence in Illinois’ sex education

By Brittany Abeijon

According to a new study about sex education in Illinois, 97 percent of Illinois’ sex education teachers say they discuss HIV/AIDS in class, but only 34 percent teach how to use condoms. The discrepancy between prevention and disease education was further explored in a study performed by Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau and other researchers at the University of Chicago.

The study was published in the February 2008 issue of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology and surveyed 209 teachers, equivalent to about 62 percent of the state’s sex education instructors.

HIV/AIDS education was the most discussed topic in sex education classes, followed by STIs at 96 percent and abstinence until marriage at 89 percent. The topics mentioned least were abortion, 39 percent; condoms, 34 percent; sexual orientation, 33 percent; and emergency contraception, 31 percent.

“The lack of providing youth with comprehensive information that stresses abstinence but also includes information about contraception and condom use directly affects (youth) health, including pregnancy and STI rates,” said Kim Rice, a sexual health educator at McKinley Health Center.

In 2005, there were 225 births to Champaign County teenagers and 6,909 abortions for women 19-years-old and younger in all of Illinois, according to health statistics provided by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

In 2007, there were 11 reported HIV cases and three reported AIDS cases in Champaign County, but there were 1,208 cases of chlamydia, 413 of gonorrhea and four of syphilis, also courtesy of the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Although teaching youth about HIV/AIDS is very important, to best protect the overall health of youth, a comprehensive sex education program that stresses abstinence but also provides information about contraception needs to be implemented, Rice said. That includes how to correctly use condoms.

Kathy Reineke, health and physical education teacher at Centennial High School in Champaign, is certified to teach health education, has a master’s degree in kinesiology and is a registered nurse.

“There is no single topic that is taught more than any,” Reineke said of the health education program at Centennial High School. “Overall it is a comprehensive education.”

On the other hand, Rice said there is no sex education competency standard, like there is for math, science or English classes.

“I would like to stress that although the study may have indicated that 97 percent of Illinois schools teach sex education, there are very few standards in place to ensure that all students are taught the same thing,” Rice said. “The bottom line is that it is up to individual teachers, schools and school districts to decide what is taught in the actual classroom.”

Tessler Lindau was unavailable for commentary about the study.

Dr. Maureen Phipps of Brown University in Providence, R.I. and colleague of Tessler Lindau for the study, addressed obstetrician-gynecologists in an accompanying editorial to the published report and wrote:

“Think about caring for the 13-year-old with chlamydia, the 16-year-old with a second pregnancy, the 17-year-old with pelvic inflammatory disease, the 18-year-old with an ectopic pregnancy, the 16-year-old who presents after experiencing date rape, the 18-year-old being tormented for her sexual orientation, and the 15-year-old who was unable to negotiate using a condom with her boyfriend and did not know about emergency contraception.”

Phipps pointed out the magnitude of the problem by stating, “Although 15- to 24-year-olds represent only one-fourth of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half of all new cases of sexually transmitted infections.”