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Saturday, April 20, 2024

Earlier last month, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released the findings from a groundbreaking study on sexual activity among American teens, and the news was not good.

They found at least one in four sexually active teenage American girls has a sexually transmitted disease.

And so, in the state that receives the second highest amount of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage sex-education funding, clearly the 48,440 teenage pregnancies a year proved that abstinence was just not catching on - at least not as fast as the human papillomavirus.

But we're fortunate that at least some lawmakers had the courage to do something different. The state Senate's Education Pre-kindergarten-12th Grade Committee, by a 4-3 vote, approved a bill that would require schools to teach students more about sex than not having it.

Their victory this Tuesday renewed our hope that Florida's not-so-glamorous title of being second in the nation for HIV/AIDS rates and sixth in teen pregnancy rates may be a thing of the past.

So state Sens. Nan Rich and Ted Deutch, as those not that far removed from the high school realities of inadequate sex education, we commend your actions and applaud your efforts to pass the Healthy Teens Act that you introduced in January.

The act will finally require Florida's public schools that already teach information about sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy and family planning to provide medically accurate and comprehensive sex education - including facts about abstinence and methods of preventing the spread of diseases and unintended pregnancy.

It's been a long time coming.

And if we didn't already need a wake-up call, the teen birth rate actually increased between 2005 and 2006 - for the first time in fifteen years.

We're thinking the nationwide policy of promoting abstinence-only programs to the tune of a $1.5 billion failure was not money well spent.

By holding up a photo of Jamie Lynn Spears on a magazine cover (nice touch, Deutch), we're hoping you drove the message home that this problem will not just go away if we continue to pretend that teens aren't having sex.

They have been for years, they still are and they will continue to do so. The great disservice of not arming them with the information they need to make healthy choices is the only real catastrophe in this situation.

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With the knowledge that this was not a sweeping victory for a common sense approach to sex ed, we can only hope that elected officials will listen to what Florida voters want and truly ignore extremist threats. However, the more militant abstinent proponents would have you believe otherwise.

Though some have tried to get their way by employing obnoxious methods - one pastor in St. Lucie County threatened to post fliers with School Board members' faces next to descriptions of sex acts when they were considering whether to adopt a more comprehensive sex-ed program called Get Real About AIDS - we're hoping they'll start to come around.

An overwhelming majority of Floridians, including a surprisingly large amount who described themselves as evangelical Christians, think public schools should teach sex education, according to a St. Petersburg Times survey.

The fact is that the Florida Healthy Teens Act is promoting something that actually works and in the process succeeds in putting the most important resource for Florida's future first - the next generation.

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