Local

‘Myth of safe sex’ is harming youth, doctor says

bySeana Murphy Dorich Pilot correspondent
5/11/2007

Dr. Meg Meeker Courtesy photo

MEDFIELD -- On April 26, Montrose School hosted a presentation by Dr. Meg Meeker, author of the book “Epidemic: How Teen Sex is Killing Our Kids.” A pediatrician with a practice in Michigan, Meeker has taken up the cause of debunking the “myth of safe sex” and makes the bold claim that this false message is actually killing kids. The free event was open to the public and a robust crowd of mostly adults from the Montrose School community, the town of Medfield, surrounding towns, and neighboring parishes attended.

Meeker’s message was frank and full of stark details about the risks of early sexual activity. As a young doctor she served inner-city communities where she met young people riddled with sexually transmitted infections. When she moved to suburban Michigan, she expected to see fewer of such cases. However, what she found was a disturbing increase in the number of young girls and women with abnormal pap smears. After consulting with colleagues, it appeared that a trend of early sexual activity was on the rise all over the country. Doctors were finding alarming rates of sexually transmitted diseases in young people of all socio-economic backgrounds. The statistics Meeker offered are blunt:

Teenagers make up 10 percent of the population but acquire 25 percent of all STDs

Nationwide, gonorrhea rates are highest among girls between the ages of 15-19

This year alone, 2 to 4 million of those infected with STDs will be teenagers

Every day, 8,000 teens will become infected with a new STD

1 out of every 4 sexually active teens is living with an STD at this moment

Teenagers today are five times more likely to have herpes than they were in the 1970s

1 in 5 Americans over the age of 11 has genital herpes

15 to 20 percent of all boys will be infected with the herpes virus by the time they reach 18

40 percent of the 3 million affected with chlamydia each year are teenagers

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) is the leading cause of hospitalization for females between the ages of 15 and 55

As these findings began to emerge, Meeker joined the majority of health experts in touting the merits of “safe sex.” But, a mother herself, she became acutely aware of the correlation between the behavior of teenagers and the images these young people received through advertising and the media.

“Kids were being sold sex,” she said. “We were selling them an ideal of a lifestyle. Kids were responding and physicians like me were mopping up the mess. I wondered why physicians were not speaking out.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally did speak and asserted that to best combat the growing risk of sexually transmitted diseases, young people should delay the onset of sexual activity and restrict their number of partners to as few as possible. Meeker contends, however, that this message is not disseminated by the media the way other health crises are. In fact, she believes the media is fanning the fire.

“Can you imagine if people gave 11 and 12-year-olds a vaccine for lung cancer and then allowed tobacco companies to sell to kids?” she asked, alluding to the HPV vaccine against some cervical cancers, the mandating of which is being encouraged by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. “I saw this growing chasm between this world and reality.”

However, it was the sight of the most innocent victim that ultimately moved Meeker to take a definitive stand on what adults -- parents, educators, and doctors -- should be telling kids about sex. She told the story of a young married couple who were anxiously awaiting the birth of their first child. The delivery went well, but several hours later the little girl began to develop seizures and appeared to have a brain infection. Tests showed that the baby had holes in her brain caused by herpes-- a virus the mother didn’t even know she carried.

For Meeker the story not only illustrated the dire effects of a sexually transmitted disease, but also its frequency and the lack of information most young people have regarding its traits. In this specific case, the mother had only had one sexual partner, her husband. He, on the other hand, had been sexually active a decade earlier in high school. He knew he carried the herpes virus, but since his wife had never had an outbreak, he assumed he had not passed it on. According to Meeker, 90 percent of people with genital herpes do not know they have it.

Meeker decided it was time to tell the truth about sexually transmitted diseases.

“Kids want answers, and they want the right answers,” she told the crowd at Montrose School. “Most teenagers do not believe they have a choice about sexual activity...We teach boys to abstain from drugs and to have discipline in sports, but we don’t do the same about sex.” She stresses that it is hard to tell which kids will be more susceptible to the pressure to become sexually active. “The good girls do not want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”

Moreover, she states that the health risks of early sexual activity extend far beyond the physical repercussions.

“Kids become kind of dull after becoming sexually active,” she said. “Kids come up to me and say ‘no one has every talked to me about how I would feel after I had sex.’”

“Parent connectedness” is the number one indicator of how a child will respond to the pressures to have sex, according to Meeker. Her message is that mothers and, especially, fathers need to connect with their kids to help them build the confidence to combat the intense pressures they face.

“Kids will do what we want them to do,” she advises, highlighting the necessity for unconditional love when dealing with these matters. “You need to be the conduit through which God comes to your kids.