All eyes on society’s worst-kept secret

New examples of the sexualization of girlhood crop up all the time: Disney Princesses have grown gradually more skinny and coy over the years; Bratz dolls look like Sesame Streetwalkers; padded bikini tops are manufactured for 7-year-olds; and even board games, such as Candy Land, have gotten a sexy makeover.

Companies say they’re reflecting the changing taste of their demographic, which unfortunately is true.

It baffles me: sex is everywhere. And yet so many people, mostly parents, don’t acknowledge it. They refuse to have serious conversations about their children’s sexuality. And they are outraged when someone else does.

A recent example is the Condom Access Project. The project has been around for a year and is stationed in seven California counties, most recently San Diego and Fresno.

As part of the project, those between 12 and 19 in those counties can confidentially request a pack of 10 condoms online, up to once a month. According to the California Family Health Council, which runs the project, with each order teens also receive personal lubricant to reduce breakage as well as educational information.

The Council argues that despite broad retail availability, teens continue to face many barriers to accessing condoms, such as embarrassment, cost and confidentiality. So far the program has sent nearly 30,000 condoms to youths via home mailers.

Run on a $5,000 yearly budget paid by federal tax dollars, the project targets sexually transmitted infection “hot-spots.” In 2011 more than 42,000 cases of chlamydia and 4,800 cases of gonorrhea were reported between 15 and 19, according to the California Department of Public Health. Out of California’s 58 counties, San Diego and Fresno are among the highest (San Diego has the second highest rate of chlamydia and the sixth for gonorrhea among teens statewide).

The project believes that access to condoms will lower the number of infections.

But the program is drawing a great deal of criticism. Some people argue that it gets in between the debate of abstinence and safe sex, claiming condom access will encourage teens’ coital proclivities. Others are furious that the state is raising their kids.

I get why parents don’t want to think about their children as sexual beings, certainly not at 12. But people can’t bury their heads in the sand either. Kids are growing up in an increasingly sexualized society, uneducated and unarmed.

In 2011, more than 300,000 cases of gonorrhea were reported. New statistics released from the CDC this week show that young people ages 15-24 account for 50 percent of new STIs last year.

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported infectious disease in the United States. Neisseria gonorrhoeae, the bacteria that causes it, has become resistant to many forms of antibiotics since the 1930s. But the bug continues to morph into strains that scientists call “multidrug-resistant gonorrhea.”

Lab studies show that cephalosporin, the current class of antibiotics used to treat it, is becoming less effective. If this trend continues, cephalosporin-resistant gonorrhea could emerge in the States, like it already has in Japan, France, Spain and at least nine people in Canada.

What does this mean? Some people are just carriers. Others can suffer from painful and frequent urinating, arthritis-like symptoms and rashes, and/or infertility. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) say these superbugs will kill about half the people they attack.

This is not a scare tactic. These are facts – the consequences of a lack of sexual awareness.

I can imagine that it’s not enjoyable for people to acknowledge that children are becoming sexually active earlier and earlier in life. But condom access isn’t to blame. Society (advertisements, television, toys) is.

Kids can handle these kinds of conversations. More parents need to learn how to.

Sarah T. Schwab is a Sunday OBSERVER contributor and Fredonia State graduate. Send comments to

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