For the Enterprise
OLYMPIA – Angela Staiger worries that teenagers are too often misinformed about sex while being sexually active – a bad combination.
That’s why she was in Olympia on Monday, among 100 students to endorse a new sex education bill.
“Hopefully this (bill) will open up communication. I think a lot of parents are too embarrassed to talk about sex with their kids,” said Staiger, 18, a Mountlake Terrace High School senior and peer educator with the Planned Parenthood Teen Council program.
Students joined state lawmakers, educators and health officials to lobby for legislation.
Rep. Shay Schual-Berke, D-Normandy Park, is trying for the third straight year to pass a bill to establish best teaching practices for sex education in public schools. The Healthy Youth Act would require public schools that teach sex education to follow curriculum guidelines set by the Department of Health and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Those guidelines include teaching abstinence, HIV/AIDS, all contraceptive methods, pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in a medically accurate and age-appropriate manner.
Bill supporters, including Planned Parenthood and the state PTA, hope the state will adopt standards to ensure that sex education is balanced.
“We want to make sure our young people get the very best information possible,” said Judith Billings, the former state schools’ superintendent who was chairwoman of the panel that set the guidelines.
Unlike past proposals, the Healthy Youth Act stresses abstinence.
“Abstinence is the most effective way of preventing disease and pregnancy – if you abstain,” Schual-Berke said.
“We know that more than half of teens don’t abstain by the time they graduate from high school. Kids should be taught that abstinence is the best prevention without excluding other methods. We have to teach the whole enchilada.”
The percentage of girls ages 15 to 17 who had ever engaged in sexual intercourse fell from 38 percent in 1995 to 30 percent in 2002, according to a recent survey from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The percentage of boys in that age group fell from 43 percent to 31 percent during the same period.
The bill is receiving bipartisan support.
Rep. Rodney Tom, R-Medina, said it is “fiscally responsible,” adding 75 percent of teen pregnancies are paid for by Medicaid.
“Let’s be honest, kids will have sexual encounters,” he said. “This legislation is about dispelling myths, facing reality and doing something about it – not encouraging kids to have sex.”
Amy Rose, a Lake Stevens High School senior, is also a Planned Parenthood peer educator. The Planned Parenthood Everett office offers a free teen clinic night every Wednesday for students interested in sex education issues. Teens interested in becoming volunteer educators can apply in April.
Rose doesn’t believe teaching abstinence alone will prevent high school students from becoming pregnant or contracting sexually transmitted diseases. But she argues that if teenagers knew the consequences and risks of sex, they might actually choose abstinence.
“The choices you make in high school will stay with you for life,” she said.
Laura Bain writes for The Herald in Everett.