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Medical Doctors See Healthy Respect as Partners in Prevention

Abstinence programs such as Healthy Respect are on the front lines in the battle against sexually transmitted diseases in teens, said Dr. Marilou Corpuz, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center in the Bronx, NY. Teens usually do not visit a doctor until after symptoms appear or they fear they are pregnant, Dr. Corpuz explained.

“Teens are reluctant to talk about sex with a doctor, so we usually don’t see them until after the fact. We wish we could be there with information and advice before the damage is done, or before they start engaging in sex,” she said. “Programs like Healthy Respect are able to reach teens before they become sexually active, or get them to think about the reality and the risks if they are having sex. Healthy Respect starts teens thinking and talking about these issues when they still have a choice about what to do.”

Peer pressure, television, the media and pop culture can overwhelm teens with sexual messages, said Dr. Corpuz, but Healthy Respect can serve as a counterweight that helps young people make good decisions for their future. “Teens are bombarded today by the media, especially in New York,” she said. “It’s important that they know the other side, or that there even is another way of looking at things.”

Dr. Corpuz was a featured speaker at a recent Healthy Respect Medical Symposium on Sexual Health held at the Philipsburg Performing Arts Center in Yonkers, NY. Illustrating her talk on sexually transmitted diseases with graphic medical images, she spoke in plain terms about the risks teens face when they engage in sex. The risks multiply with every new sexual partner, she stressed, so even teens who have engaged in sex must be given the abstinence message.

Condoms can prevent some sexually transmitted diseases some of the time, she stated, but they can provide a false sense of security. To be effective, condoms must be used consistently and properly all the time, and some diseases can be spread by skin contact, where a condom does not reach, she added. The Healthy Respect message of abstinence until marriage is the only sure way to avoid life-changing and health-threatening sexually transmitted diseases, she concluded.

Dr. Kevin Reilly, Chairman of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center, underscored the challenges faced by obstetricians in dealing with sexually active teens. Teens have a higher risk of complications during pregnancy than older woman, and face greater social, economic, familial and personal problems, he said.

“Anytime we can send the message to teens about the risks of engaging in early sexual behavior, we are providing a great service,” he said. Healthy Respect is an ideal vehicle because it reaches teens in the classroom, where they have time to learn, think and plan for the future, Dr. Reilly said. See our next e-mail bulletin for an in depth discussion on challenges faced by obstetricians.

Healthy Respect is an abstinence in preparation for marriage program that trains its own instructors to teach in the classroom in male-female teams for 20 sessions. Now completing its third year, Healthy Respect has reached more than 2,000 middle school and high school students in New York City, Yonkers and Long Island.

The Healthy Respect Medical Symposium on Sexual Health was part of the program’s holistic approach to abstinence that involves teens with their parents, guardians, schools and communities. The symposium brought together physicians, educators, public officials, community and religious leaders, parents and others who are concerned about the health, welfare and future of New York’s young people.