AUSTIN — Former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders on Monday said condoms are more likely to protect teens against sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy than vows of abstinence.
"Many of our children don't use condoms because we don't teach them about condoms," she said. "Our government tells them that condoms will break. I always say, the vows of abstinence break far more easily than latex condoms."
The 74-year-old pediatrician said the best place for children to get information about sexual health is from their parents.
She spoke outside a bus sponsored by condom manufacturer Trojan. The bus was at an Austin hotel where public health officials from around the state are attending the Texas HIV/STD conference sponsored by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
Elders said she knows that many parents are uncomfortable talking about sexual issues with their children. But she said it is particularly important in Texas, where students receive little information at school beyond a message of abstinence.
President Bill Clinton named Elders the first African-American surgeon general in 1993 but fired her 15 months later after she made controversial remarks about masturbation after a speech at the United Nations on World AIDS Day.
She said she continues to speak out about the need to educate young people about safe sex because the United States is a "sexually unhealthy nation."
"Compared to other industrialized nations, we have one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates," she said. "More than 65 million people in our country have an incurable STD. These are just unacceptable numbers."
In March, a federal study found that at least 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease. Nearly half the black teens in the Centers for Disease Control study had at least one sexually transmitted infection, versus 20 percent among whites and Mexican-American teens.
The most common one is the human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer, which was the subject of heated debate in Austin last year after Gov. Rick Perry ordered schoolgirls to be vaccinated against the virus. The Legislature overturned Perry's order and made the vaccine voluntary.
An estimated 100,000 new cases of STDs were reported in Texas last year, including 5,000 HIV infections. The state does not track HPV cases.
"We still have a major challenge with HIV and STDs, not only nationally but here in the state of Texas," said Dr. David Lakey, Texas health commissioner.
Prevention, early diagnoses and treatment are critically important in the fight against STDs, Lakey said.
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