International Policies, Reproductive Health Supplies, Youth

As International Youth Day Looms, Youth in Western Countries Need to Take Control of Their SRHR, too

Kirana Bammarito is PAI’s Communications Intern. She is a recent graduate of American University.

August 12 will mark the tenth International Youth Day as commemorated
by the United Nations. In the United States, youth triumphs and
tragedies alike have occurred during the past year. November saw the
exciting, social-media-driven election of President Barack Obama with
July revealing the dismaying, but not surprising, report that declining
teen pregnancy and STI rates either stalled or reversed
during the Bush years. Rates in the South, where authorities tout
abstinence and religion as perfect sex education, are of course, the
highest.

While infection rates in colleges and universities are high as well,
I do not see the same kind of media attention being paid. Perhaps this
is because we’re legal adults by that time, and we “should know better”
by now. Yet, if no one had the proper education in high school, I don’t
know how anyone expects freshmen to suddenly gain the knowledge mid-keg
stand at the Welcome Week frat party. Maybe the “adults” think sexual
education is like setting up a bank account or falling in love – no one
really tells you how to do it or what to expect – you’re just supposed
to know.

It’s this supposed automatic knowing that scares me as my friends
and I try to navigate the real world. Just this week, some friends and
I lamented that we are indeed getting older. One friend realized that
in just a few short years he could be thinking about starting a family
while another thought he’d be engaged by now. While both men are
sexually active, neither  has gotten tested for STIs in the last year,
and both have  been with women without even thinking to ask about
sexual history/contraceptive safety – condoms are pretty much the only
necessary key to a good time.

The United Nations defines youth
as people ages 15 to 24, and at 23. I don’t see myself as “old” by any
means, nor do I feel like a full “adult.” Yet, I recognize that I am no
longer an adolescent, or even an undergraduate, and I can no longer
seek refuge in juvenile excuses. Gone are the days where we can fully
blame presidents, parents and policies for bad sex-ed and reproductive
health. Unwanted pregnancies and STIs don’t care and they don’t
discriminate.
The statistics are there: half
of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended; two-thirds of all STIs
occur in people 25 and younger, and by age 24, one-third of sexually
active people will have contracted an STI. Yet, so many of my friends
put off testing, assume they’re “clean,” or even worse,  don’t get
tested because they’re afraid of what the results might be. Others have
sex without bothering to use any contraception.

I’m not going to pretend I’m absolved of doing the same, but I get
tested every six months both despite and because of, such actions, and
I also have an IUD.  The myth of invincibility is for high-schoolers. Maybe that’s why the District recently just announced it will be offering free STI testing in all high schools.
While we work on engaging in more open dialogue about sexuality, STIs
and pregnancy prevention, it’s time for older youth and young adults
(20-24) in Western countries to recognize the risks, educate
themselves, and accept responsibility for their actions. For those
concerned about costs, Washington, D.C.’s Department of Health offers free testing for anyone.

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