Invincible Youth, Invisible Epidemic
Unsafe Sex Puts Black Youth at Risk
by Khalia Walters, Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Intern
In Philadelphia, there are not many teenagers who are well-educated on reproductive health. Things like pregnancy rates, STD rates or just STD’s period are a non-factor to a great number of Philadelphia teens. I know this because I am a teen living in Philadelphia, and from the things I’ve seen and heard from my peers, people don’t know that sexual intercourse can be really risky.
I came across a website suggested by one of my coworkers here at ACLU that gave the most straightforward yet very informational facts about STD’s. The website is called takecontrolphilly.org and it gives you all facts on every STD. It tells you the symptoms, whether they’re curable or not, and how you can catch them. It also says what you should do when you catch a curable STD and what you’re restricted from doing if you have an STD that isn’t curable. Some STD’s spread simply by the male privates and female privates touching each other, not only by full sexual intercourse. And pregnancy can happen before intercourse, too. But so many teens don’t know that.
At our age, we teens think we’re invincible and that things like STD’s are facts broadcast to us to make us refrain from sexual activity. With some STD’s, you won’t really able to tell if you have it or not. With HIV, most times you won’t even look or feel differently. Other times people get flu-like symptoms which can just be mistaken for the common flu. And so some infected people are running around freely thinking they’re STD-free when they’re actually infecting others. In 2010, of all the youth in Philadelphia diagnosed with HIV, 84% of them were African-American. Also, 70% of the adolescents diagnosed with HIV each year are African-American.
So what exactly do we do about these frightening facts? I say that the Philadelphia School District should place more health classes in middle schools and in all high schools. This can be a touchy subject with some parents and to officials this may seem unnecessary, but with the rate of HIV in African-American youth in Philadelphia as high as it is, something big needs to happen. Teens need to know the great risk they’re taking when they go out and “hook up” with someone. Anyone who thinks he’s too cool to use a condom is fooling himself. Using a condom is a way of looking out for yourself and your partner.
When I was in middle school, we had health classes that taught us about some of the STD’s out there and we were told to read these really old health books with scenarios that were so unrealistic that was it hard to believe that something called AIDS could bring so much destruction to one’s life. Running with this, I think that the Philadelphia School District has an obligation to its students. They should establish health classes at every Philadelphia high school with an updated, effective, and relevant curriculum. Teachers should teach about current statistics and make lessons more interesting. Websites like takecontrolphilly.org are far more appealing to the eye than a normal website with blank facts typed all over. Their graphic designs and accurate information intrigues the reader and pulls them in, making them want to learn more about the risk of sex. Sex ed classes should be at least this interesting.
As we raise awareness during Black History Month of issues facing our community, teens in Philadelphia need to know the facts about reproductive health. They need to know that unsafe sex is a risk no one should take. STD’s are lurking around the city affecting the lives of many teens who may not even be aware of the danger. Health classes in Philadelphia high schools and middle schools could really benefit Philadelphia youth, especially African-Americans who are by far at the greatest risk.
Khalia Walters is a high school sophomore at the Mastery Charter School, Lenfest Campus. She is interning at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project this semester.
This post is part of a series honoring Black History Month.