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Cook County, Illinois Youth Risk Behavior Survey Proves Need and Support for Comprehensive Sexuality Education

Results of the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey (YRBS) from suburban Cook County, Illinois draw attention to the prevalence of risky sexual behavior among high school students in the area.[1]  Part of a nationwide survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the results from the suburban Cook County YRBS indicate that 37 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse, and of the students who had sexual intercourse in the past three months, only 62 percent reported having used a condom during the time of last sex.[2] This was the first YRBS to occur in the Cook County school district. The Cook County Department of Public Health now supports the implementation of comprehensive sexual education in the county, noting that the YRBS survey results indicate the necessity of such policy.[3]
 
The YRBS was completed by 1,718 students in 20 public high schools during fall 2010.  While the city of Chicago is also part of Cook County, this YRBS was only conducted in suburban high schools in the county. It measures a variety of behaviors ranging from drug and alcohol use to physical activity and health to sexual behavior. Of 12th grade students, 19 percent reported having had sexual intercourse with four or more people in their lifetime.[4]  Among students who reported having sex in the past three months, 19.3 percent indicated that they had used drugs or alcohol before engaging in sexual intercourse.[5]  These high numbers of risky behaviors have brought attention to the sex education provided by Cook County schools, most of which teach abstinence-only instruction.[6]
 
The Cook County Department of Public Health saw the survey as a way to gauge necessary health changes in the county that can be implemented through education.  While the data indicate that a variety of health changes need to occur among these high school students, the recommendation for comprehensive sexuality education by the Cook County Department of Public Health is one of the most significant outcomes of the survey.[7]  “Most schools don’t have comprehensive sex education and are teaching abstinence only, but clearly we have a high amount of students who are engaging in sexual activity,” said Amy Poore, a Cook County Department of Public Health spokeswoman.  She further added that the county plans to use this data to push for grant money that will help implement comprehensive sexuality education programming in the parts of the county that do not have it.[8]
 
Results of the survey further indicated the need for comprehensive sexuality education that would cover a broad range of topics including information about human sexuality, relationships and interpersonal skills, and responsibility.[9]  In suburban Cook County, 86 percent of students reported that they had ever been taught about AIDS or HIV infection in school, slightly lower than the national average of 87 percent of students.[10]  Furthermore, 7 percent of students reported that they have been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.[11]  Comprehensive sexuality education would provide age-appropriate, medically accurate information to students on a variety of topics pertaining to sexual health, behavior, and life skills.  Through such instruction, students would not only learn about a variety of safe sex practices, they would also be educated on related sexual health issues, such HIV/AIDS and STDs.[12]
 
In contrast to the rest of the county, Chicago Public Schools incorporate a comprehensive sexuality education program into their curriculum.  They have implemented comprehensive sexuality education, while also following the Illinois Family Life Guidelines, evidence of the feasibility of having comprehensive sexuality education programs in Cook County.[13]
 
 

[1] Sebastian James, “Cook County Department of Public Health Releases Results of Youth Risk Behavior Survey,” 26 August 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, http://blog.cookcountygov.com/2011/08/26/cook-county-department-of-public-health-releases-results-of-youth-risk-behavior-survey/.
[2] “2010 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Results,” accessed 15 September 2011, http://www.cookcountypublichealth.org/files/pdf/yrbs-2010/2010CUAHSummaryTables.pdf.
[3] Stefano Esposito, “37% of teens say they tried sex, 7% say they were raped: Cook Co. poll,” 26 August 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, http://www.suntimes.com/7280420-417/37-of-teens-say-they-tried-sex-7-say-they-were-raped-cook-co-poll.html.
[4] Survey Results, 57
[5] Survey Results, 59
[6] Emily Crockett, “Survey Shows Need for Better Teen Sex Ed,” 14 September 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, http://campusprogress.org/articles/survey_shows_need_for_better_teen_sex_ed/.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Stefano Esposito, “37% of teens say they tried sex, 7% say they were raped: Cook Co. poll,” 26 August 2011, accessed 15 September 2011, http://www.suntimes.com/7280420-417/37-of-teens-say-they-tried-sex-7-say-they-were-raped-cook-co-poll.html.
[9] Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: K–12 (New York: SIECUS, 2004), 17.
[10] Survey Results, 91
[11] Survey Results, 14
[12] Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: K–12 (New York: SIECUS, 2004), 63-64.
[13] “Illinois State Profile Fiscal Year 2010,” SIECUS, accessed 15 September 2011, http://www.siecus.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=Page.ViewPage&PageID=1217.

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