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Teens at Risk for STDs

November 06, 1994

Shari Roan's excellent Column One report (Oct. 26) on the alarming growth of sexually transmitted diseases among adolescents sadly mirrors the findings of Planned Parenthood in working with teens. Last year in our clinics, we saw nearly 15,000 teens, some of whom made the decision to have sex without condoms for such reasons as "I'm on the pill," or "He worked for (a local company), so he must be clean," or "You can't get AIDS from a woman." In the classroom, we urged more than 37,000 teens to act responsibly--either postpone sexuality or heed the dangers of unprotected sex.

Should we be surprised that our educational efforts aren't more successful? Hardly, not when our message is competing with the media's far more exciting message that sex is OK. And not when so many adults, uncomfortable with their own sexuality, believe silence to be the best teacher. Open and honest discussion of sexuality in the home needs to be an essential part of family life, along with age-appropriate, reality-based comprehensive sexuality education curriculum in the schools. It is the responsibility of all of us--parents, educators, clergy and health care professionals--to provide young people with the facts and the nurturing they need to make wise decisions about their sexuality.

SUELLEN B. WOOD

Executive Director

Planned Parenthood, Los Angeles

* Thank you for your excellent piece on STDs among adolescents. At the Los Angeles Free Clinic Hollywood Center, where we see thousands of these young people every year, we know that the problem is serious. We also know that there are ways to treat adolescents and help them make more healthful and responsible choices.

We provide free, non-judgmental care. It's hard to tell the staff from the clients, and young people feel safe discussing their problems with people who speak their language. We also know what questions to ask to determine whether a young person is at risk for STDs. Sadly, most internists and pediatricians don't ask the right questions, and young people are either too ashamed or too ignorant to volunteer that they are at risk.

We also know that we cannot wait for a young person to come to us. The ones at highest risk simply don't come in for help until they are already infected--and have infected others. We send outreach teams of youth educators to places where young people are most at risk: the streets of Hollywood, homeless shelters and continuation schools, to educate and counsel them about HIV, STDs, substance abuse, smoking and other health problems.

We work very closely with a network of youth agencies to provide comprehensive care to adolescents. We know that substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness all increase the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases, and you cannot treat the symptoms without addressing the complicating lifestyle factors.

MARY L. RAINWATER

Executive Director

SUSAN MANDEL MD

Medical Director, Los Angeles Free Clinic

* Re "Hemet Schools Sued Over Sex Curriculum," Oct. 26: Kudos to Hemet for adhering to state law mandating abstinence in sex education! Interesting that Planned Parenthood (the largest abortion provider in the world) is a plaintiff!

MARY MARGARET CASSIDY

Port Hueneme

* Looking through The Times, I notice on the front page that teens are more at risk than ever from sexually transmitted diseases. Inside I see our civil liberties organizations fighting to prevent the teaching of abstinence. Isn't something wrong here?

ALAN S. MAZER

Pasadena

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