Ignorance of health is a help to no one

I have great concerns about the moratorium that has been put on the sexual health curriculum, “Pono Choices.” As a health professional, I see this comprehensive reproductive health education imperative to assist middle school and high school students to make choices that might impact them today and certainly in the future.

The Pono Choices Reproductive Health Curriculum is approved and funded by the Federal Office of Adolescent Health. This curriculum follows the law of being abstinence based and medically accurate. An abstinence-based curriculum does not mean withholding information from teens that may already be having sex, it means that they would be taught abstinence as the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies. At the same time, the abstinence-based program offers medically accurate information for students who desperately need it (as they may already be having sex) to immensely lower their chances of an unplanned pregnancy and getting infected with a sexually transmitted infection. This is a program designed for all students.

I am appalled that there would even be a question of whether a student should receive this very valuable information in school. Hawaii has the 10th-highest rate of pregnancy (Kauai being the highest in the state), the sixth-highest rate of chlamydia (a common sexually transmitted infection that often has no symptoms and can cause sterility), the lowest condom use and the third to the lowest in taking birth control pills. Not talking about sex with educated and concerned adults has had a terrible impact on our children and our state. In dollar signs, the lack of sex education is costing taxpayers $37 million a year in the state of Hawaii. Also, the psychosocial effects of being a teen mom and being the child of teen parents has been shown over and over to be deeply detrimental. And the pattern of teen pregnancy and poverty tends to repeat itself.    

I have taught reproductive health care and worked at school based clinics in Hawaii and on the Mainland over the last 30 years. I can say from experience that the kids and teens are asking each other about sex and they are getting very inaccurate information from the majority of their peers. Minors are making choices about sex and they are mostly precarious ones. They cannot make educated choices if they have not received an accurate medical education about reproductive health and the stage of sexual development they are in when their hormones begin to change in middle school. This is exacerbated by the fact that only 38 percent of the Kauai public school students said that they ever had parents or other adults in their family that talked with them about what they expect them to do or not to do when it comes to sex.

Another interesting fact is that 95 percent of people who marry have had sex before marriage. If these married people did not get reproductive education in school, did not have conversations about this with their parents and they did not come in to talk with their health care provider about this, where are they supposed to get this information? I suppose they could Google “sex,” but I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone who is trying to get accurate medical information in the area of reproductive health.

I have witnessed two Planned Parenthoods being closed on Kauai (starting in the 1970s). I have witnessed two school-based clinics being closed on Kauai. And now we are considering not offering this vital information in the classrooms? This is nonsense. The last placed I worked on the Mainland was in St. Paul, Minn., where all of the public high schools have school-based clinics that offer reproductive health care and education. Hawaii schools need to examine the current statistics of teen pregnancy and STDs. We are not doing well in this state. I think we need more services for teens, a substantially underserved group. We need more Planned Parenthoods. We need school-based clinics and even teen community clinics in the state of Hawaii and especially on the neighbor islands where teens have very few options.   

Maybe the anonymous pastor who recently spoke adversely about the Pono Choices Curriculum would consider submitting his curriculum to the newspaper and the parents can consider the two options; a Christian pastor to discuss reproductive health or a health professional who has spent their training and career in assisting teens and others to learn about their bodies, including their hormones and “private parts.”

Because sex has been taboo in our culture for so long, it is no wonder that kids and teens aren’t talking to their parents (and parents are not talking to their kids) about sex and their changing bodies. They have learned that it is not to be talked about with teachers, parents, pastors and other adults. From my experience, if a medically accurate conversation about reproductive health is never or rarely had with a minor, this is a minor at high risk for teen pregnancy and/or contracting a sexually transmitted infection.

Education, not ignorance, has always been the solution to a serious issue. This also includes the subject of reproductive health, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. We want our children to make “Pono Choices” and this curriculum and curriculums like these provide the tools they need to make healthy choices both now and in the long term.

• Margaret Maupin is a resident of Kalaheo

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