According to Trojan Study, Vermont has Safest Sex

By Annie Grayer

On September 15, the makers of Trojan Brand Condoms released its first annual State by State Safer Sex Index ranking. The study found Vermont to be the state with the best sexual health in the country.

Trojan Brand Condoms, America’s number one condom, was led to produce the study based on reports that there are still nearly 20 million new cases of STDs being documented every year, and only one in three sex acts involve a condom.

The study used the criteria established by the Third Edition of the Sexual Health Rankings to rank states based on contraception use and the extent of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

To measure contraceptive use, the study looked at whether or not state mandated sex education in schools covered contraception and STD/HIV education, the percentage of high school students who were taught by their teachers the essential condom use topics, and the number of births by mothers aged 15-19.

To measure the prevalence of STDs, the study looked at the number of HIV diagnoses, Gonorrhea cases, syphilis cases, and HIV tests conducted in a given state.

In order to understand why Vermont ranked so highly in this study, it is important to consider how the legal and education systems work together to promote sex education.

For starters, Vermont state law requires schools to teach sexuality education as part of its comprehensive health program.

According to the National Coalition to Support Sexuality Education (NCSSE), this wide-ranging program has ten parts. NCSSE also specifies that Vermont’s sexuality education program is enforced by an advisory council, elected by the commissioner of education, who works directly with the department of education to figure out how this program will be best incorporated into the curriculums of public schools.

Ms. Jill Krowinski, the Vice President of Education and Vermont Community Affairs at Planned Parenthood, elaborated on some of the topics that Vermont public schools are required to cover.

“By law, schools are required to teach human development, sexuality, and reproduction; information about HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and prevention; decision making about sexual activity including abstinence; and information regarding the possible outcomes of premature sexual activity, contraceptives, adolescent pregnancy, childbirth, adoption, and abortion as part of comprehensive health education,” said Krowinski.

Ms. Erin Randall-Mullins, a health educator at South Burlington High School, further explained the goals behind Vermont’s comprehensive health program.

“We emphasize comprehensive health education,” explained Ms. Randall-Mullins. “Students will receive current health information, and practice using it. The decisions they make are ultimately up to them- we feel like it’s our job to give them all of the information, and the tools to utilize it.”

Randall-Mullins also spoke about her own curriculum, and the way in which she facilitates discussions about how the media portrays sex.

“We try to rewrite what the media says is ‘normal’ with regard to healthy sexual behavior,” Randall-Mullins said. “We want students to know that asking a potential partner about their sexual history is normal. Discussing what forms of protection you will use is normal behavior.”

Instead of focusing on an abstinence based curriculum, Vermont, as with most high schools in the northeast, teach a sex education curriculum that has proven to be very informative. Studies from organizations like AVERTing HIV and AIDS (AVERT), have found that students will practice safer sex when given the proper information about it.

Randall-Mullins therefore accredits Vermont’s high ranking in Trojan’s recent study to the strength of sexuality education in Vermont.

“I think Vermont is ranked as having the safest sex because we do have a state law that all students will receive health education- students need to take a high school health course prior to graduation,” said Randall-Mullins.

To further understand why Vermont’s sex education program is so strong, Planned Parenthood’s role in supporting the public education system must be realized. For starters, Planned Parenthood is the nation’s largest provider of sex education.

“Our Education Department supports the everyday work being done by Health Educators in their classrooms and school nurses in a variety of ways,” Krowinski began. “We are available to come into classrooms and talk about services available at local health centers. We also provide professional development opportunities for health and PE educators, the annual Working With Youth Conference, and through participation on community health coalitions.”

In terms of how Planned Parenthood increases student involvement, Krowinski pointed to Planned Parenthood’s Peer Education Program in Chittenden County. This program trains high school student volunteers to talk to their peers about the information and resources available to them.

Krowinski described the program as one that “seeks to empower high school students with accurate, factual reproductive and sexual health knowledge to benefit themselves, their peers and the community.”

To further supplement the curriculum being taught in schools, Krowinski highlighted the role parents play in enforcing a child’s learning and understanding of the material.

“By supporting sex education in schools and by having conversations at home, parents can impact the sexual health of their children,” Krowinski explained. “October marks Let’s Talk Month, aimed at getting families talking about sexuality and relationships. It’s a great time for parents to go beyond “the talk” and instead have ongoing conversations throughout their children’s lives about critical topics that can help young people make healthy decisions.”

In addition to enforcing the information being highlighted in the classroom, Planned Parenthood offers Vermont teenagers, especially women, excellent access to health care.

With 12 Planned Parenthood locations across the state, Vermonters have the opportunity to receive affordable services such as birth control, STI testing and treatment, and cancer screenings.

As reported by Ms. Krowinski, in 2014, 25,634 people visited one of these health centers, of which 94% of them were seeking preventative care services. Krowinski also made sure to note that Planned Parenthood provides free condoms to all of their sites, and are available upon any visit.

In addition to Planned Parenthood, students and adults also have access to organizations like Outright Vermont, Hope Works, and Women Helping Battered Women.

The combination of the state requiring a strong sex education program coupled with access to health services like Planned Parenthood explain why Vermont would be at the top of any study measuring safe sex.

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