Florida ranked 47th in the country for sexual health by the State by State Safer Sex Index.
And to Samantha Evans, that may not be all that bad.
“It’s not necessarily a good thing, but it could mean that we’re doing our job,” said Evans, who is health promotion specialist at GatorWell at the University of Florida.
While Evans said the numbers were initially surprising, she hopes they mean the majority of cases are being properly reported.
The study, which was sponsored by Trojan Brand Condoms, looked at HIV rates, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, teenage pregnancy rates and more.
While Florida has an excellent surveillance system for diagnosing sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, Evans said, it is also in an unusual position when it comes to reporting long-term health problems.
Much of the state’s population is transient — many people move to the state at a later point in their lives. They could have contracted the diseases while living in another part of the country, she said.
Evans said the most important aspect of sexual health is education.
But Florida has no mandated comprehensive sexual education curriculum. While students may learn about puberty and the reproductive system in biology class, there is much more to sex, she said.
Evans said that because of the lack of such education, by the time students get to college there are large gaps in their sexual health knowledge. Programs like GatorWell give presentations on topics like STDs, contraception, consent and more.
Sexual health education should not be taboo, she said.
Melissa St. Onge, communications manager for Planned Parenthood of South, East and North Florida, said the conversation should start at home but continue in class.
Schools in the state should have uniform, fact-based sexual health education, she said.
“There is a variety of information out there and what we need to ensure is that people are getting scientific, medically accurate information,” St. Onge said.
Without access to that information, students don’t necessarily have the information they need to protect themselves, she said.
She said she was not surprised to hear Florida ranked so low on the survey, which included statistics on births to mothers ages 15-19 as well as STD statistics on gonorrhea and syphilis.
To help fill in education gaps, last year Planned Parenthood served over 3,000 students from middle school to college age in the area from Gainesville to Jacksonville.
Services such as a teen outreach program help students to decrease teen pregnancy while increasing academic success, she said.
“Unfortunately those programs can’t touch every single student,” Onge said. “And that’s why it’s really important that we implement this in our schools.”
Those programs, while comprehensive, should be age appropriate, she said.
If the state mandated sexual health education in schools, the picture would be different, she said.
Shirley Lane, executive director of A Woman’s Answer Medical Center, said the conversation should center around pregnant women and fathers.
The center’s clients range in age from 13 to 42 years old, she said. It offers pregnancy testing and counseling, but does not offer testing for sexually transmitted infections.
Florida is one of a number of states that provides funding to pregnancy centers, she said.