Transparency is key to teen sexual health

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Former Reporter
02/06/2018 12:30 PM
TAHLEQUAH – With misinformation about sex so accessible, talking openly with teens about sex can help prevent unintended pregnancies and decrease risks of sexually transmitted diseases.

Barbara Williams, a Cherokee Nation certified prevention specialist, has taught pregnancy prevention for more than 20 years through programs such as “Date but Wait” and “Straight Talk.” Her mission is to help parents and children talk openly about sex to avoid misinformation, a sharp contrast to how she was raised.

“My mother never talked to me about how to prevent pregnancy or anything like that, and I asked her why. She said, ‘Oh, I don’t know. I figured you would learn it from somewhere,’” Williams said.

In 2015, Oklahoma’s teen pregnancy rate was 34.8 per 1,000 females, compared to the national average of 22.3, according to the State Department of Health. Within the CN, Adair County ranks significantly higher with an average between 55.2 and 67.4 pregnancies per 1,000.

“I know there’s a problem with teen pregnancy, and I know it goes back to parents not talking to their kids about it, especially in our Indian families,” Williams said. “There are no (Cherokee) words for anything that has to do with sex. We need to make the tribe know there’s a problem, especially in our rural communities.”

Oklahoma was second in the United States for teen births in 2014, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. The campaign also found that almost 50 percent of Oklahoma teen mothers live in poverty, while only 38 percent who have children before age 18 receive high school diplomas.

For teens who aren’t comfortable talking to their parents about sex, Williams recommends they visit a county health department, which provides family planning information and birth control options including free condoms, pregnancy testing and emergency contraception.

In addition to preventing teen pregnancy, Williams educates teens about sexually transmitted diseases or STDs.

The Centers for Disease Control reports that annually 20 million new STD cases are reported in the United States, with half of them in individuals between 15 and 24 years old. While some STDs have symptoms such as itching or burning, several – including chlamydia and gonorrhea – often do not.

Williams also cautions teens that some STDs do not have a cure and those that are treatable are becoming more dangerous.

“There is now a drug-resistant gonorrhea, which we’ve always had a treatment for gonorrhea, and now it’s a superbug and there’s no guarantee,” she said. “We don’t know how long the medicine we have now is going to quell it. (Teens) need to know that you can’t tell by looking at someone if they have an STD. The best thing to do if you have sex is to wear a condom so you don’t have to worry.”

To request a presentation from Williams, call 918-207-4977, ext. 7186. For more information about teen reproductive health and pregnancy, visit www.cdc.gov/teenpregnancy. For confidential and free STD testing, visit https://gettested.cdc.gov.

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