As a health teacher, nothing irks me more thank encountering stories of teachers who've gotten into trouble for discussing sex. For many of us, this is a subject that just naturally comes up during the course of a typical lesson.

But the situation in a Wisconsin county is making the usual debates about comprehensive sex education versus the abstinence-only variety seem almost quaint in comparison. That's because teachers in this state are facing an impossible situation.

Recently, Wisconsin mandated a sex education curriculum that required teachers to teach about condoms and other forms of birth control. Sounds pretty straight-forward, right? It would have been, but last week, a D.A. named Scott Southworth announced that teachers who followed this law, could end up in jail for breaking another: namely, contributing to the delinquency of minors.

According to the LA Times:

A letter sent to five school districts by Juneau County District Attorney Scott Southworth said the instruction could amount to contributing to the delinquency of a minor if teachers know students are sexually active. He said the districts should drop sex education until the law is repealed. Southworth also argued that teaching contraceptive use encourages sexual behavior among children, which equates to sexual assault because minors can't legally have sex in Wisconsin.

Southworth isn't the first person to try to keep a discussion of sex out of the classroom. Legions of abstinence-only supporters have been working on that for 15 years. Nor is he the first to try to make talking about sex by teachers a crime. Indeed, a few years ago, something similar happened in Utah, when a Salt Lake City teacher with over 30 years experience was put on paid administrative and threatened with criminal charges after she answered students' questions about oral sex, masturbation and what it meant to be gay. That incident prompted Representative Carl Wimmer, (he of criminalizing miscarriage fame), to suggest introducing a law that would both make it illegal for teachers to answer students' sex questions, and would also set up a teacher registry listing the names of those educators who dared to do so!

Thankfully, that law didn't pass. But this new incident in Wisconsin is a reminder that such thinking is still alive and well. Yes, there are teachers out there who have engaged in criminal sexual behavior involving students. But the average teacher talking about sex ed, sure isn't one of them. Like supporters of abstinence-only education, supporters of muzzling teachers, are working under the premise that kids who don't know about sex won't have it.

How many more pregnant teens with STDs does this country need to realize this will never be the case?

Remember how 2006 and 2007 saw a slight rise in America's teen pregnancy rate after a 15 year decline? Well, it seems that this was just a blip and not a permanent trend. Phew.

The CDC released data today showing that,

“The birth rate for US teenagers 15-19 fell 2 percent in 2008 to 41.5 per 1,000, reversing a brief two-year increase that had halted the long-term decline from 1991 to 2005. The birth rate for Hispanic teenagers declined to an historic low."

But what was behind that temporary rise anyhow? It's tough to say for sure, but a link between the lack of access to birth control and abortions for teens, and the impact of Bush era abstinence-only programs seems fairly obvious. And 2008, the year that we saw the halting of rising teen pregnancy rates? Well, that was also the one in which twenty-five states declined the federal abstinence-only funding. That's a big change from the preceding years when as many as forty-nine states were accepting the money.

Of course, it is also important to note that during this time, the birth rate for women of all ages, not just teens, was rising to its 2007 peak.

In the grand scheme of things the slight rise and now slight decline aren't such a big deal. But what is, is the fact that America has long boasted the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the Western World. So while we should feel a little better about our situation, we also need to realize that when you are starting from a bad place, the simple fact that things aren’t getting worse isn’t necessarily a cause for celebration.

We seemed so close.

No, not to real health care reform--though that would have been nice-- but to the end of abstinence-only-until-heterosexual-marriage education.

This is the federally funded program that since 1996 has been teaching kids in schools across the country that the only way to avoid teen pregnancy, STDs and emotional ruin, is to just say no to any sex that isn't maritally sanctioned. To further this goal, programs were barred from discussing everything from birth control and condoms to abortions and non-hetero sexual orientations--except to stress the dangers of such things.

Countless studies, not to mention our recent rise in teen pregnancies and STDs, demonstrated that this tactic didn't work. In light of this mounting evidence of failure, the number of states accepting abstinence funding had been steadily decreasing over the past few years. Another sign that abstinence was on it's way out? The Obama administration cut federal funding for such programs, set to go into effect September 2010.

Looks like things have changed.

Within the thousands of pages that make up the health bill, is nestled a $50 million a year line item for, yes, those very abstinence-only programs.

As the Washington Post reports,

"The bill restores $250 million over five years for states to sponsor programs aimed at preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases by focusing exclusively on encouraging children and adolescents to avoid sex. The funding provides at least a partial reprieve for the approach, which faced losing all federal support under President Obama's first two budgets."

I guess that parents across the country can breath a sign of relief that their teens won't be learning about condoms and birth control, because apparently, despite legitimate science proving otherwise, these things don't work. And the unplanned pregnancy option that isn't parenting or adoption? Why would a country with a teen pregnancy rate twice as high as Canada's, and seven times as high as the Netherlands need to tell teens about that?

The Indiana University School of Medicine recently conducted a study looking at why sexually active teen girls who subsequently choose abstinence (often after an STD diagnosis) later resumed having sex.

What it found is that teen girls aren't always driven to have sex out of depression or rebellion. In fact, of the girls who resumed sexual activity after a period of abstinence, one of the main factors was being happy and having a secure relationship.

As the authors say,

"A number of studies demonstrate associations between depressed mood and sexual risk behaviors. However, studies using daily diaries and momentary sampling have demonstrated close temporal associations between improved mood and sexual thoughts and behaviors...Adolescent sexual intercourse is frequently presented as an entirely opportunity-driven risk behavior. Our data present a more nuanced picture, in which sexual intercourse is associated with important relationship attributes, such as partner support and perceptions of relationship quality."

We live in a world where teen sex is often portrayed solely in negative terms and it's common to assume that teen girls have sex to "get love" or because they are depressed or insecure. Yet despite this conventional wisdom this study reminds us that like adults, teens have sex for a whole lot of reasons, some of them actually pretty positive.

This week, I got an email from the embattled New York Governor, David Paterson. It read in part,

I would like to inform you of an important new initiative I signed and enacted into law that will enable you to automatically receive an alert when a moderate or high-risk sex offender moves into an area of interest to you or your family, NY-ALERT. Through this new service, you can be notified by e-mail, text message, fax or telephone when a sex offender moves into or out of your community, or even when an offender relocates within a certain radius (from a quarter mile to 25 miles) of your home.

Really? That's going to keep my kids safe? I kind of doubt it. But I'm not surprised that my state has decided to go this route.

Despite Department of Justice reports which have found that sexual violence in the United States is decreasing, an increasing number of states have adopted zero tolerance laws for sex-based offenses. Many of these include making sex offender names and addresses publicly available. As a result of these laws, sex offenders across the country not only face increasing jail time, but they have also been facing more and more restrictions on their day-to-day life. For example, many have been reduced to living in motels alongside highways as tougher and tougher restrictions bar them from residing anywhere near children.

Though many sex offenders are indeed sexual predators, others are adults consensually buying or selling sex. Some are also teens who were convicted on statutory rape charges, or even for "sexting".

Yet even in cases where truly hardened criminals have committed unspeakable crimes, such restrictions don't seem to have the intended effect. A 2009 study conducted by the National Institute of Justice and Rutgers University, found that the ever increasing legislation requiring sex offender registration, residency restrictions, and mandatory minimums had not made a difference in deterring future sex crimes against children.

Apparently, Paterson, like many in his profession, didn't get this memo. So for New Yorkers, it is now easier than ever to find out our neighbor's really dirty laundry. Wouldn't it be nice if actually preventing sex crimes in the first place was also that easy?

The birth control pill has been around for fifty years, and in that time, a lot of women have taken a lot of hormones. Indeed, the United Nations Population Division estimates that more than 100 million women around the world are currently taking hormonal contraception. That's a huge number to be sure, but it's also one that makes sense when we consider that in America alone studies have found that 98% of women between the ages of 15 and 44 who have ever had sex, have used some form of birth control.

And while there are proven risks to hormonal contraception--such as blood clots and strokes for some women--a study out of the U.K. has determined something a lot of birth control users will be pleased to learn: women on the pill tend to live longer than their non-pill popping sisters.

As Science Daily reports,

"These latest results, led by Professor Philip Hannaford from the University of Aberdeen, relate to the 46,000 recruited women, followed for up to nearly 40 years, creating more than a million woman-years of observation. The results show that in the longer term, women who used oral contraception had a significantly lower rate of death from any cause, including heart disease and all cancers (notably bowel, uterine body and ovarian cancers) compared with never users."

It doesn't quite make up for the fact that women still bear the lion's share of responsibility for birth control, but at least it's something.

Last week, headlines were made after a school in Mississippi cancelled its senior prom rather than let a lesbian couple attend. The school, Itawamba Agricultural High School, released a statement that explained prom was off, "due to the distractions to the educational process caused by recent events."

And while the events leading up to this particular incident were indeed recent, barring gay and lesbian teens from taking same sex dates to prom, isn't.

This issue first entered the courts back in 1980, when a school in Rhode Island told a gay teen named Aaron Fricke that he could not bring a male date to prom and outlined the reasons in a letter sent to Aaron by the principal.

Dear Aaron: This is to confirm our conversation of Friday, April 11, 1980, during which I denied your request to attend the Senior Reception on May 30, 1980 at the Pleasant Valley Country Club in Sutton, Massachusetts, accompanied by a male escort. I am denying your request for the following reasons: 1. The real and present threat of physical harm to you, your male escort and to others; 2. The adverse effect among your classmates, other students, the School and the Town of Cumberland, which is certain to follow approval of such a request for overt homosexual interaction (male or female) at a class function; 3. Since the dance is being held out of state and this is a function of the students of Cumberland High School, the School Department is powerless to insure protection in Sutton, Massachusetts. That protection would be required of property as well as persons and would expose all concerned to liability for harm which might occur; Sincerely, Richard B. Lynch Principal

Aaron ultimately sued and won the right to attend his prom with a male date. As the judge deciding the case wrote, "I find that principal Lynch's reason for prohibiting Aaron's attendance at the reception the potential for disruption is not sufficiently compelling to justify a classification that would abridge first amendment rights."

That decision guaranteed the right of any American student to bring a same sex date to a school sponsored dance.

I'd like to think that educators in Mississippi, the state with the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, would have more important things to wory about than who was taking who to prom. Then again, I'd also like to think that schools would feel compelled to obey the law rather than impose a homophobic vision of teen life.

According to the CDC almost 50% of American teens have had sex. Of those, 61% used a condom the last time they did.

That's pretty significant number of kids to be practicing safe sex. But what if despite their best efforts, the condoms these kids were using just weren't working out for them?

Switzerland, at least, has decided to tackle this issue and Pam's House Blend is reporting that,

"A special condom for teens has hit the market in Switzerland...The new condom is 5 millimeters smaller in diameter than the standard model (1.7 inches rather than 2.0 inches). According to the Swiss research, a regular condom is too big for one in four youths of that age and can slip off. At that age, the penis is not always fully grown."

A smaller teen condom seems like a good idea, but I wonder if such a thing would be a success in the States. First off, the idea of marketing a condom to a young teen is about as far from the American view of teen sexuality as you can get.

Additionally, even at that young age, it is likely that a lot of teens would be put off by the knowledge that their condom was smaller than average.

It's not that smaller sized condoms aren't available in the U.S. A few brands make "snug fit" versions of their condoms. But one rarely sees them marketed. And unlike men who need to use larger sized condoms, those who opt for the smaller versions, don't often do so with macho bravado.

I'd be curious to hear your thoughts. Do you think that sexually active teens with smaller penises would be open to using smaller condoms? Or do you think our cultural penis size baggage would get in the way?

Mississippi is the state with the highest teen pregnancy rate in the country. It has rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis among youth practically twice that of the national average.

Additionally, the Sex Information and Education Council of the U.S. reports that:

"Nearly 60 percent of Mississippi high school students report ever having had sexual intercourse compared to 47.8 percent of high school students nationwide. Moreover, teens in the state are nearly twice as likely to have engaged in sexual intercourse before the age of 13, and 50 percent more likely to have had four or more sexual partners than their peers nationwide."

So what’s a good legislator to do in this case? Why propose a law requiring abstinence education, of course!

According to the Clarion Ledger,

“House Bill 837 would mandate school boards adopt a sex education policy by June 30, 2011, of their choosing: abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. Current law does not require schools to have a policy. The bill passed the House 83-32 and awaits Senate action. Last year, a bill that would have required schools to teach more than abstinence failed.”

Nice of them to allow schools to pick between abstinence and....well, abstinence.

It's also worth noting that Mississippi is no stranger to these programs, having accepted millions and millions in federal finding for abstinence programs over the past ten years. In fact, the state accepted close to six million in abstinence funds in 2008 alone.

I understand the reluctance to try something new, but more of a failed program for a state in crisis, well, its nothing short of lunacy.

Here's a situation: You are a 13-year-old girl forced into prostitution by an adult pimp. Despite the fact thirteen is under the age of consent, and you can't even legally have sex with a peer, let alone with an adult, you are still charged with the crime of selling sex. Oh, and the 32-year-old man who got you started? Well, he walks free.

If that sounds outrageous, it should. But that exact situation is currently going on in Texas. As a blogger for the San Antonio Current explains,

"The case involves a girl identified as B.W., taken from her mother at age 11 and placed with Child Protective Services. After running away from CPS, she was picked up by Houston Police Department officers two years later after they observed her trying to sell herself on the street. She was booked on charges of prostitution. Later, after her age of 13 became known, she was placed in the juvenile system and charged with delinquency for committing prostitution instead of returning her to CPS."

Texas is not the only state to treat sexually exploited children as criminals. New York, for example, did the same thing until the passage of the Safe Harbor for Exploited Youth Act in 2008. The act is set to go into effect this April, and

"Requires local districts to provide crisis intervention services and community based programming for exploited youth. Currently, individuals under the age of 18 who are arrested for prostitution or other illegal activities of a sexual nature enter the criminal justice system with the legal presumption that they are juvenile delinquents. This bill...decriminalize[s] child prostitution, recognizing these children as victims, not criminals, and provide[s] them with necessary social service."

This law demonstrates an important change and it is something that a state like Texas (which has already locked up more than enough abused children), should consider adopting.