Column: Educate youth to best stem pregnancies, STDs

I am writing in response to The Daily Courier's Jan. 27 article, titled "Lawmakers seek change in state's K-12 sex-ed rules," by Capitol Media Services. Thank you for choosing to publish a story on this important issue.

Many community members and organizations actively support legislation that improves youth access to health education with an opt-out, rather than opt-in format. The reason for this support is in the numbers. According to the most recent report on unintended pregnancies by the nationally recognized Guttmacher Institute, 51 percent of all pregnancies in Arizona were unintended in 2010. Additionally, the most recent Arizona Department of Health Services report on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) clearly shows a steady increase in reported cases of chlamydia and a steep increase in cases of both gonorrhea and syphilis from 2012 to 2013. It is time to respond to these startling trends with real action.

The best way to prevent both unintended pregnancies and STDs is to focus on educating the people who are most likely to engage in risky sexual behaviors - our youth. Early intervention practices such as the provision of comprehensive sexual education in grades K-12 have been empirically linked to positive health outcomes including: delayed initiation of sex, increased use of condoms and/or contraception in those who choose to engage in sex, and lower rates of both pregnancy and STDs among youth.

In response to the article's focus on what the legislation could mean for discussions of homosexuality in schools, the views of the Arizona Center for Policy are largely out of sync with the attitudes of the majority of Americans. Arizona joined the ranks of states issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in October 2014, and a study done by the Pew Research Center in 2015 showed that 55 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage, compared to the 39 percent who oppose it.

Also according to this study, younger generations express higher levels of support while older generations have continued to become more supportive over time. Various other recent studies have indicated that more young people than ever are identifying as LGBTQ. Hosting discussions of gender and sexuality in school settings provides the perfect opportunity to support students in a time when they are most likely to be struggling with issues of sexuality and selfhood.

The power in comprehensive sexual education lies not only in its clear link to improved physical health outcomes, but also in its capacity to teach compassion and encourage self-awareness. Supporting comprehensive sexual education means respecting the youth in our community by empowering them to make informed decisions about their sexual health.

It is my sincere hope that lawmakers choose to be advocates for our youth by voting in favor of SB 1019.

Anna Alcott is the Outreach Coordinator at Northland Cares HIV Clinic.