Sex Educators Steering Youth into Risky Behavior, Groups Say

By Mask, Teresa | Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 8, 1999 | Go to article overview

Sex Educators Steering Youth into Risky Behavior, Groups Say


Mask, Teresa, Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)


Byline: Teresa Mask Daily Herald Staff Writer

Sex education organizations, like Planned Parenthood, are under fire from abstinence advocates who say the groups are promoting sexual activity among youth.

By using trendy lingo like "outercourse," which refers to sexual acts without intercourse, Planned Parenthood and others are sparking premature sexual behavior, abstinence supporters say.

A Glenview abstinence group and a nationwide physicians organization say outercourse is an implied endorsement of oral sex, an activity that can spread sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS.

The physicians are asking Congress to investigate the sex education groups and the information they disseminate.

New York-based Planned Parenthood, one of the groups under attack, disputes the claim that it is promoting sex.

Steve Trombley, Planned Parenthood's president and CEO, says more and more youth are having their first sexual encounters in their preteen years. "It's an alarming phenomenon and one that concerns us every day because we see them in our centers," he said.

However, Trombley says, Planned Parenthood does not promote sex among young people but instead stresses responsible sex education - which includes details about contracting diseases.

The most recent Illinois statistics for gonorrhea show 26 percent of those infected are teens. With chla-mydia, the number among teens jumps to 39 percent.

While the figures remain steady from previous years, abstinence advocates warn that young people aren't getting complete and accurate information about the risks involved with sex.

"Young people need to know there are long-term effects beyond the instant gratification," said 19-year-old Erika Harold, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an abstinence educator. "They need to know these diseases can cause infertility and rob them of the privilege and joy of having children."

This is especially the case with chlamydia, which usually is symptomless. Many women don't realize they have it until complications occur, including infertility and an increased risk of tubal pregnancies. Health officials believe it is the most common sexually transmitted disease.

Harold says she worries about her peers because the perception is widespread that oral sex is safe since there is no risk of pregnancy. In fact, many don't even consider oral sex actual "sex."

That attitude is echoed in a study that appeared in The Journal of the American Medical Association earlier this year in which nearly 60 percent of 599 college students surveyed about their sexual behavior said oral sex did not constitute "having sex."

The study was released shortly after President Clinton said he didn't consider oral sex the same as "having sex."

This dismissive attitude about sexual activity, with little regard to health risks, frustrates Dr. John Diggs, spokesman for the New Jersey-based Consortium of State Physicians Resource Councils. He is blaming Planned Parenthood and the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States for anecdotal evidence of a growing number of preteens engaging in sexual activity.

Diggs' concerns stem from a Washington Post article citing oral sex as commonplace among middle school students as young as 11 and 12 in one wealthy Washington, D.C., school. The July 8 story riled not only people in the D.C. area but many throughout the country.

The controversy has ended up on the Web site of radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, who discusses issues of morality, in Newsweek and on Good Morning America.

While she can point to no surveys or studies, Kathleen M. Sullivan, director of Project Reality, an abstinence-based organization in Glenview, said sex among middle school children also is occurring in Chicago and its suburbs.

"There are verbal reports and, frankly, I even know of a parent meeting called at a particular school," she said. …

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