Data from New Mexico Youth Risk and Resiliency Survey (2009), conducted every other year, shows that Chaves County minors, grades 6-12, are â€œthinking aboutâ€ sex at early ages.
â€œIt looks like weâ€™ve got young kids having sex and we didnâ€™t know that before,â€ Dr. Linda PeÃ±aloza, research associate professor at the University of New Mexico, and YRRS principal investigator, said. â€œWe had not asked that question at those younger grades.Â Kids are being exposed to a lot of things like sexualized content, violence â€” a number of things that were generally not considered appropriate for our young kids are now in our media.â€
In 2009, YRRS statistics showed that 12 percent of Chaves County children grades 6-8 have already had intercourse. Of that 12 percent, five percent have had intercourse with two or more people. About 65 percent of those students surveyed answered that they had used a condom during intercourse.
Only 49 percent say that they have been taught about sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS and HIV at school. Chaves County kids are more attuned to condom use, despite their limited knowledge of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS and HIV, than most of New Mexico. However, PeÃ±aloza said kids throughout the state stray away from this kind of protection when engaging in sexual activity.
â€œOur kids are not using condoms when they have sex,â€ PeÃ±aloza said. â€œTheyâ€™re at a greater risk of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV-AIDS. There is some concern about the quality of sex education.â€ Children are sold sex through many mediums like movies, television and video games, which have mature content ratings. New Mexicoâ€™s Health Education Standards with Benchmarks and Performance Standards attempt to â€œrecognize media messages that may contain both healthy and unhealthy messages in areas related to sexuality.â€
YRRS statistics also show that as teens enter high school, more of their peers are having intercourse and mixing other recreational adult activities with sex. In 2009, about 15 percent of teens in grades 9- 12 who said that they were having sex also used alcohol or drugs prior to sex. About 56 percent of students surveyed claimed to use a condom.
Other statistics show that 23 percent of active high school teens use no method of birth control. The end result has been the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation, according to Laura Dâ€™Arezzo, GRADS teacher at University High School, who works with teen mothers and fathers in Roswell.
â€œI get them in our program straight from 8th grade,â€ Dâ€™Arezzo said.
â€œThey donâ€™t even have a chance to start high school without having a child. None of them expected it. … it wasnâ€™t a conscious decision.â€ Fables about sex are the biggest enemies of educators and parents. â€œOne of them said that if you do three back flips after having sex, then you donâ€™t get pregnant,â€ Dâ€™Arezzo said. â€œThe myths that people believe. There needs to be something more in the preventive area that we donâ€™t really have.â€
Many believe that the debate over who should teach or talk about health and sex education begins and ends in the home. Parents and schools have dif ferent views on this topic because of its sensitive nature.
â€œSchool is where students are to be taught facts,â€ PeÃ±aloza said. â€œHealth education has to do with science and has to do with facts.Â Not all parents are aware of the most current research. I think that health education is very important to the schools. Itâ€™s not necessarily happening at home, and itâ€™s not necessarily happening in a way that is consistent and reliable. Kids should be given the opportunity to be given the information they need that is age-appropriate, factual and not confusing.â€
State health education benchmarks, for grades 9- 12, cover several subjects.Â Putting the vast amount of available health information in context might prove to be dif ficult, with the number of online resources available to the public. For example, when looking at available Internet resources, one can access about.com for tips on abstinence and safe sex. Still, experts believe that such resources are lacking in informative facts and instruction.
â€œKids need to be taught the truth about the outcomes of sexual behavior â€” the risks for them,â€ PeÃ±aloza said. â€œI think we can do a better job.â€
On the positive side, data show that students who were exposed to some type of health or sex education made more informed decisions about abstinence, condom use and pregnancy prevention techniques.
From 2003- 2009, the number of teens in grades 9-12 having sex dropped by 11 percent, and the who had sex before the age of 13 dropped by about six percent.
NMDHâ€™s and YRRS surveys reflect the cultural changes that have taken place in the U.S. over the past 100 years, which clearly show that 21stcentury kids are thinking about sex.