August, 2009 browsing by month


Why it’s essential to offer kids comprehensive sex education

Monday, August 31st, 2009

In a recent study, about half of teens surveyed admitted to sexual activity. It’s a fact of life that adults have to face squarely.

And adults probably would be naïve to assume that the only ones having sex are the ones who are willing to admit to it.

But there’s another factor to consider: kids without access to comprehensive sex education may not know enough to call the sex that they’re having “real” sex.

Consider this finding from another survey, this one of ninth graders, that appeared in the journal Pediatrics in April 2005:

Adolescents evaluated oral sex as significantly less risky than vaginal sex on health, social, and emotional consequences.

That study found that, because of their assumptions about it being less risky, considerably more ninth-graders were having oral sex than were having vaginal sex.

Clearly, we’re failing our children if they believe that oral sex is less dangerous to their health. Oral sex can expose teens to the same sexually transmitted diseases — herpes, Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and HIV — as “real” sex. The only risk they’re avoiding by having oral-genital or anal-genital intercourse instead of genital-to-genital contact is pregnancy.

So why don’t kids know the risks?

Because we adults are not providing them with frank, comprehensive sex education.

We all want to keep children safe and preserve their innocence. But think for a minute — would you hand over the car keys to a child who’s never had a driving lesson? Teens are exposed to a more powerful drive than the one to get behind the wheel. Those raging hormones of adolescence are a biological imperative. We ignore that irrepressible drive at our children’s peril.

As an Ob-Gyn, I see the consequences of inadequate sex education. After years of decline, STDs are on the rise among adolescents. So is pregnancy.

We need to be honest with our children about sex, not because we expect them to be sexually active any more than when we expect them to crash the car when we tell them to buckle up. We must do it to protect them. We would be negligent not to. And, we need to discuss sexual intercourse and all the attendant risks along with the responsibilities before they are teenagers.

Age-appropriate sex education must be available to all youngsters. It must be comprehensive, and include detailed information about homosexuality, heterosexuality, anal-genital intercourse, oral-genital intercourse, and sexually transmitted diseases, as well as abstinence. We must tell our youth the entire story, without flinching or sugar-coating. A child’s future fertility, even his or her life and quality of life can be at stake. If that doesn’t merit giving them the truth, I can’t imagine what does.

– Yvonne Thornton, MD, MPH

CVS: a first trimester alternative to amniocentesis

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

Amniocentesis (amnio) is a test that identifies the presence of a chromosomal or genetic defect in the growing fetus, such as Down Syndrome or Tay-Sachs disease.

But amniocentesis can’t be done until a woman is between 16 and 20 weeks pregnant. If a serious problem is found, and the patient chooses not to continue with the pregnancy, then it is a more involved procedure than during the first trimester. And it can be more heart wrenching to have to make such a decision after investing so much hope in a pregnancy that has progressed to 18 or 20 weeks.

What many prospective parents don’t realize is that there is an alternative to amniocentesis that can be done during the first trimester, as early as 10 weeks. It’s called chorionic villus sampling (CVS). It’s about as safe as amniocentesis. Either procedure (CVS or amnio) has a fetal loss rate (miscarriage) of less than 1%. And, in most cases, CVS can be as good a choice or better.

As one of the investigators for FDA trials of the procedure in the mid-1980s, I was among the first physicians in the U.S. to gain significant experience in chorionic villus sampling.

If you are older than 35 and your ob-gyn has recommended prenatal genetic testing but hasn’t offered this alternative to you, it may be because fewer physicians are trained in CVS than in amnio.

But you and your pregnancy should not be penalized just because your physician does not perform CVS.

If you’d prefer to have chorionic villus sampling, check with one of the major academic medical centers in your area where CVS is more likely to be performed regularly. And be sure to have it done by a physician who has over 100 procedures under his or her belt, because the procedure has a steep learning curve. The miscarriage rate is directly related to the experience of the person performing CVS.

The advantage with CVS is that you will know the results of the test within a week, while you are still in your first trimester.

– Yvonne Thornton, MD, MPH

White House lists the benefits of proposed health care reforms

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I’m glad the government has spelled out what Americans can expect from a health care reform bill. Here’s what the White House says will be in the final bill:

  • No Discrimination for Pre-Existing Conditions
  • Insurance companies will be prohibited from refusing you coverage because of your medical history.
  • No Exorbitant Out-of-Pocket Expenses, Deductibles or Co-Pays
  • Insurance companies will have to abide by yearly caps on how much they can charge for out-of-pocket expenses.
  • No Cost-Sharing for Preventive Care
  • Insurance companies must fully cover, without charge, regular checkups and tests that help you prevent illness, such as mammograms or eye and foot exams for diabetics.
  • No Dropping of Coverage for Seriously Ill
  • Insurance companies will be prohibited from dropping or watering down insurance coverage for those who become seriously ill.
  • No Gender Discrimination
  • Insurance companies will be prohibited from charging you more because of your gender.
  • No Annual or Lifetime Caps on Coverage
  • Insurance companies will be prevented from placing annual or lifetime caps on the coverage you receive.
  • Extended Coverage for Young Adults
  • Children would continue to be eligible for family coverage through the age of 26.
  • Guaranteed Insurance Renewal
  • Insurance companies will be required to renew any policy as long as the policyholder pays their premium in full. Insurance companies won’t be allowed to refuse renewal because someone became sick.

And here is a link to answers to Frequently Asked Questions that I hope will dispel fears and refute the misinformation.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH

Should schools provide voluntary testing for STDs?

Friday, August 7th, 2009

Yesterday, I was on Dr. Nancy’s noontime show on MSNBC, as one of two medical expert guests, to discuss whether schools should be permitted to offer voluntary testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) to their students.

As you’ll see from the video, we three physicians (who are also all mothers) — Dr. Nancy, myself, and a doctor from the Medical Institute for Sexual Health in Austin, Texas — agreed that this is a no-brainer. Of course, we should allow schools to offer voluntary testing for STDs.

Why should we test? Because, in a pilot program at eight high schools in the Washington, D.C. area, 13 percent of the teens who took advantage of voluntary testing were found to be infected, most often with chlamydia and gonorrhea. Chlamydia often causes no symptoms but, if left untreated, can lead to chronic pelvic pain due to pelvic inflammatory disease, an increase in ectopic (abnormal) pregnancy and infertility. Only by testing can we be certain to discover and treat it.

This does not mean we want our teens to be intimate at such a young age. But we must face the fact that, despite our best efforts, some are becoming intimate. And, because of this, some teens face the risk of sexually transmitted diseases that, if left untreated, can cause lifelong damage.

No one would be forced to get a test and no one is suggesting anything but that we make the tests available to kids who wish to know whether they’ve been exposed. If they fear that they are infected, we must give them a way to find out for sure so that they can get treatment.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH