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Fri, May 24

Column: Sex ed reduces poverty, homelessness

Recently, The Daily Courier published an article titled "One in 30 Arizona children are homeless; 1,400 of them are in Yavapai County." The facts and figures laid out in the article are shocking. Yet one important contributing factor to poverty, and thus to the problem of child homelessness, was left unmentioned: teen pregnancy.

I'd like to talk about child homelessness and poverty, and how comprehensive sexuality education can help reduce both.

According to the report "Arizona Health Improvement Plan:

Teen Pregnancy," from Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), teen pregnancy is inextricably linked to poverty.

The report finds that parenthood is the leading cause for teen girls to drop out of high school. Less than half of teen mothers graduate from high school, and fewer than 2 percent of teen mothers go on to receive a college degree.

Given the barriers to education caused by teen pregnancy, it's no wonder that this study also found two-thirds of the families started by young, unmarried mothers live in poverty.

Unfortunately, the relationship between poverty and teen pregnancy is cyclical and difficult to escape.

The ADHS report finds children of teen mothers are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, are less likely to graduate from high school, and perform worse on standardized tests. Daughters of teen mothers also are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves.

Fortunately, teen pregnancy is preventable. And comprehensive sexuality education is an important tool for prevention.

It's true that abstinence is the only 100 percent effective method to prevent teen pregnancy. Unfortunately, for many young people, abstinence is not a realistic option. The Arizona Youth Risk Behavior Survey reports that, by their senior year in high school, nearly two-thirds of Arizona teens will have had sex.

When we deny young people the knowledge that enables them to have safe, responsible sexual relationships, we set them up for failure with life-altering, sometimes dangerous, consequences.

For proof, you need to look no further than our current situation.

The state of Arizona does not require public schools to offer any type of sex education to students. Those that do offer sex education often offer abstinence-only-until-marriage programs. Yet, according to data compiled by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Arizona is ranked 32nd in the country for its teen pregnancy rate and is higher than the national average.

Clearly, Arizona teens deserve better sex education than they currently receive.

Comprehensive sexuality education, in contrast, has been found to help young people delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners and increase the use of condoms and contraceptives, according to a 2010 Advocates for Youth study. The Journal of Adolescent Health reported that teens who receive comprehensive sexuality education are actually 50 percent less likely to become pregnant than those who receive abstinence-only education.

Comprehensive sexuality education offers clear, consistent, age-appropriate and straightforward information that goes beyond the biological and physical aspects of sex, to include social and emotional aspects of relationships as well as taking a closer look at positive body image and self-esteem.

Comprehensive sexuality education doesn't rely on scare tactics and is inclusive of LGBTQ relationships. It brings attention to issues such as condom negotiation, consent and healthy relationships. And it includes parents in the conversation so that the information learned can be placed within a family's own values.

If the goal is really to help young people understand the responsibilities, consequences and values associated with safe, healthy sex and to delay the onset of sexual activity, then comprehensive sexuality education is one of the best tools we have.

A study by Behavior Research Center found that 76 percent of Arizonans support medically accurate sex education, including birth control education, as the best means to reduce teen pregnancy.

By calling for comprehensive sexuality education in Arizona's public schools, we are ensuring that the young people in our community have access to one more tool to help them become successful adults and to help them avoid the cycle of poverty that has contributed to the crisis of child homelessness in our county and our state.

Do you know if your child is getting sex education at school? And, if so, what kind of sex education is your child receiving? Contact your school superintendent to find out.

Desiree Perez works for Planned Parenthood Arizona as regional health coordinator for northern Arizona. She is available for healthcare consultations, education presentations and outreach activities and can be reached at 928-228-1577 or


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