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OC HIGH / STUDENT NEWS & VIEWS : SEXUAL ROULETTE : Today's teens face sex-related issues and concerns barely talked about--and even unknown--a generation ago. So how are they coping with their sexuality? The reality is that while many teens are prudent in their behavior, others casually take chances that could change their lives forever. : Despite Risks, Teens Shun Responsibility and Protection

January 27, 1994|AMY SUAREZ | Amy Suarez is a senior at Troy High School in Fullerton. This article first appeared in the student newspaper, the Oracle.

A little latex never hurt anybody. Yet, despite the consequences, many teens still refuse to use condoms or any form of contraceptive when engaging in sexual intercourse.

In a recent survey of 587 students at Troy High School in Fullerton, 68% of those students who are sexually active said they use protection on an irregular basis or neglect to use it altogether.

When Troy senior Steve (students are identified by first name only to protect their identities) engaged in unsafe sex, he allowed his emotions to override his good judgment.

"When I would go to (my girlfriend's) house, I wouldn't take any condoms because we were coming closer and closer to having sex, and I thought that if I wasn't prepared I wouldn't have sex. That wasn't the case, though, and we ended up having sex and I just wasn't prepared," Steve said.

"I've been educated all my life, and I know what the consequences are. I think it was a stupid risk. I'm ashamed to say it, but if I had the same situation to live over under the same circumstances, I'd probably do the same thing over again."

Unfortunately for teens such as Steve who don't take precautions, there are consequences.

More than 2 million teens across the United States are infected annually with STDs, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Locally, in 1992 there were 1,199 new cases of sexually transmitted diseases among those age 10 to 19, according to the County of Orange Health Care Agency.

Currently, the most feared sexually transmitted disease is AIDS. In Orange County, as of Dec. 31, 1993, seven males and two females age 13 to 19 have been diagnosed with AIDS. Both of the females and four of the males have died, according to the Health Care Agency.

Another serious repercussion is teen pregnancy.

In Orange County in 1992, 51,623 babies were born--4,781 of those were to teen mothers.

Back in 1990, there were 377 pregnancies reported among 7,336 young women age 15 to 19 in the Fullerton Joint Union High School District.

Troy senior Susan became part of those statistics and learned firsthand the effects of unsafe sex when she got pregnant her freshman year.

"Sometimes my boyfriend and I would use a condom; sometimes we didn't, and I know it was one of the times we didn't that I got pregnant. My mom always told me that if I ever got intimate with my boyfriend to come to her and she would give me condoms. But when you're having sex, it's not like you're thinking about it. Until you skip a period, you don't think about what could happen to you," Susan said.

"When I got pregnant it had nothing to do with (inadequate) information. I'd heard it from my mom and from school. It's in the back of everyone's mind, I know it is, that little voice saying, 'I know I shouldn't be doing this,' but they all think 'it can't happen to me.' You can only harp on someone so long before they'll tune you out."

Modifying sexual practices will require sex educators to do more than inform students about the consequences of unsafe sex, Troy health instructor Bill Morris said.

"I think nationwide, health educators are trying to come up with a curriculum that would be best suited to help in the area of behavioral change. By now we should have seen a significant drop in the number of unwanted pregnancies and STDs in our society, but that's not the case," Morris said.

Brian McMichael, community educator for Planned Parenthood of Orange and San Bernardino counties, said there are, basically, four components that determine how responsibly a person will behave sexually, and knowledge is just one of them.

"First, you need to know the facts: 'How do I catch an STD; how don't I?' The other component is skill. There are two kinds of skills, technical skills, like how to roll down a condom without rupturing it or spilling the contents. You also need to have social skills to bring up the issue (of using protection)," McMichael said. "Self-esteem is another one: If you don't have good self-esteem, you won't stand your ground when you're confronting your partner. The last is community, and not just the PTA, but peer support. What do we call guys who don't have sex very much? What do we call a woman? The truth is we insult them. We don't pat ourselves on the back for taking care of ourselves," McMichael said.

Society, ultimately, has the biggest influence on teen-agers' conduct, and education alone cannot reverse its effects, McMichael said.

"How do you combat the hours and hours of sex, with all the allure and power as it's portrayed on TV, with an average of 555 minutes of sex education?"

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