Can Better Communication Reduce STD Rates Among Black Youth?

Study suggests that if adults gave teens more accurate sex information, rates could possibly decrease. 

Posted: 10/23/2012 01:58 PM EDT
Can Better Communication Reduce STD Rates Among Black Youth?

When it comes to lowering the rising rates of STDs such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis among Black youth, condom use is key.

But what other tools are out there?

A recent report from Oregon State University claims that communication between adults and young people could also help.

Researchers believe that if more adults — teachers, mentors and parents — would address the topic of STDs instead of shying away from it, young folks would listen and potentially be armed with the information they need to make better decisions when it comes to sex.

They came up with this conclusion by interviewing African-American teens ages 15-17 in Chicago and San Francisco. They found that the study’s participants were confused by the mixed messages and misinformation they were getting from pop culture, peers and media. And while the Internet is booming with trustworthy websites with science-based information, the teens stated that they don’t necessarily trust the Web’s advice and information on safer sex. They claimed the information wasn’t “reliable.”

"We need more collaboration between family, schools, medical clinics, churches, and other entities that traditionally may not have worked together,” lead author Margaret Dolcini, an associate professor in the OSU School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences told Science Daily. She added, "This is possible, and we should encourage more of it. We wouldn't necessarily expect a church to offer condom demonstrations, but a community clinic or school sex education program might do exactly that. And there's a place for both."

Science Daily reported that other findings included:

—    Stressing abstinence at young ages is appropriate, but could be made far more effective if youth were taught other forms of emotional interaction as an alternative to sexual intercourse.

—    Sex education will be more effective if sex is treated as a healthy part of life at appropriate ages and circumstances.

—    Young women benefitted strongly from families who had open lines of communication, talked about sex, monitored their activities and made it clear their health and safety were important.

—    Many teenagers have received surprisingly little accurate information about sex and sexual health.

It’s not a secret why this study is important: African-American teens and young adults bear the brunt of the STD epidemic in the U.S.

According to a 2009 CDC study, 48 percent of African-American female teens had been diagnosed with an STD. Gonorrhea rates among African-Americans are higher than any other racial or ethnic group and 20 times higher than that of whites.

When you look at class and race, the news is even more alarming. Blacks accounted for 71 percent of reported gonorrhea cases and almost half of all chlamydia and syphilis cases. To make matters worse, data estimates that African-American youth from low-incomes families are 10 times more likely to contract an STD compared to their white counterparts.

It’s crucial for parents, educators and church members to be part of the solution and not the problem by perpetuating misinformation. Perhaps everyone needs an STD 101 course.

Learn more about STDs and what you can do to prevent them here.

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(Photo: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images)

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