Lifestyle

AIDS and sex ed: How the Dutch do it | Column

The Pierce County AIDS Foundation sponsored an AIDS Walk on Sept. 6, raising more than $100,000 with at least 2,200 walkers.

Funds are used to care for people living with HIV/AIDS and for education programs aimed at preventing the spread of these diseases.

The 22nd annual AIDS Walk in Seattle will be held Saturday, Oct. 4. It is sponsored by Lifelong AIDS Alliance, a comprehensive AIDS Service Organization servicing the greater Puget Sound area. Lifelong provides a range of direct services, such as meal and grocery delivery, as well as information, referrals and a program to help those Washington state residents affected by HIV/AIDS pay insurance premiums. They also fund educational programs to reach the highest risk populations, one of which is youth.

The Washington State Department of Health reported in March 2008 that nearly one quarter of new HIV diagnoses occurred in those ages 29 and under.

In Washington, while sexuality education is not mandated in our public schools, education regarding HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is required. Parents are able to opt children out if they so choose — but please think carefully before you take this step. Even with this minimal education in place, more than 6,200 STIs were reported in our state in children ages 10-19 (Washington Department of Health, 2002).

We have more work to do.

Albert Einstein is often given credit for this definition of insanity: Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. If we want different results, we might like to look at the Dutch. The adult rate of AIDS prevalence in the Netherlands is much lower than ours. They also boast the lowest teen pregnancy rate in Europe: 8.4 per 1,000.

Contrast this with the United States, where teen pregnancy rates range between 42 and 113 per 1,000, depending on the state.

How do the Dutch do it? In part, with comprehensive sexuality education, beginning in elementary school. H. Roling, a professor of education at the University of Amsterdam, is quoted as saying, “The Dutch government has always accepted the fact that education was better than denial.”

I am fond of asking myself, “Do you want to be right, or do you want to be effective?”

Sometimes, you can’t have both. We still have AIDS decades after this very preventable disease was discovered. Standing moral ground alone is not getting the results we all want: Lower rates of HIV/AIDS and all STIs, and lower teen pregnancy rates.

The Dutch recognize that waiting until puberty, when hormones are raging and adult-child relationships often become strained, is not the most effective system. They teach about sexuality from an early age, matter-of-factly and across curricula in schools, as well as at home.

I hope you talk to your children about much more than HIV/AIDS regarding sexuality. If this is difficult for you, at least that subject can be a starting place for your conversations.

If all else fails, consider taking a walk — I hear it’s going to be nice in Volunteer Park on Oct. 4.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a personal life and parent coach in Federal Way. She facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth, and parenting classes in the area. Contact: comments@diligentjoy.com.

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