Adolescent Sexual Health: To Improve or Not to Improve? That is the Question…

(También en Español)

The Natchez-Adams School Board in Jackson, Mississippi, is currently deciding whether to adopt abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curriculum. This decision for Mississippi schools, to implement either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus curriculum, is the same as deciding whether or not to improve adolescent sexual health.

Hopefully, Natchez-Adams School Board’s decision will foster homes full of sexually health youth instead of homes crowded with unintended pregnancies and STD/STIs.

The former, abstinence-only education, will be laden with religious ideologies, teach students about the importance of abstinence as the expected standard, and only mention contraceptives in terms of failure rates that are wrong and unscientific. The latter will teach the benefits of abstinence, but also will give comprehensive information about condoms, contraception, and the prevention of sexually transmitted infections and diseases. When you put the two side by side, it seems like a clear-cut decision: abstinence-only curriculum will only further diminish the sexual health of adolescents, while abstinence-plus curriculum has the potential to improve sexual health outcomes. Yet, other schools boards in Jackson and George counties recently adopted abstinence-only models.

But why would any school board adopt such an obviously flawed sex education program?

For one, American society has an extensive history of supporting abstinence-only-until-marriage  (AOUM) programming. This is the result of many factors, such as negative stereotypes associated with adolescent sexuality, an incorrect belief that teaching teens about sex is encouraging them to have premarital sex, AIDS fear, homophobia, heterosexism, sexism, and religious doctrine that dictates premarital sex is a sin.

Second, the American government has bolstered this attitude by providing financial support for schools that teach abstinence-only: the federal government has spent $1.5 billion funding AOUM programs over the last 15 years. This abundance of federal funds lead directly to the proliferation of these unsound programs across America, and why some school boards today still choose abstinence-only education in their schools, despite research proving their ineffectiveness to postpone teenage sexual activities.

In fact, there is overwhelming research that has found multiple issues with AOUM education: censoring vital health care information, jeopardizing adolescent sexual health, stigmatizing the LGBTQ community, purporting harmful gender stereotypes and one religious perspective, and withholding information teens need to make healthy and responsible life decisions. Yet, schools still adopt these programs despite this astounding evidence because they can take advantage of this federal funding.

Sexuality is a part of everyone’s life, no matter what race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, or age a person is. Everyone has the basic human right to access comprehensive sexuality information that is not bias, is scientifically correct, and applicable to their sexuality. Let’s hope that the Natchez-Adams School Board recognizes this and accounts for these proven sexual health benefits of comprehensive sex education when making their final decision on June 30, and students of this district get the comprehensive sex information they need and deserve.

UPDATE: After initially postponing the decision to adopt either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education curriculum, the Natchez-Adams School Board in Jackson, Mississippi chooses “both.” Check next week for a follow up post explaining why the school board was forced to find this middle ground.

About Alifa Watkins