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

También en español 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.”

The Board voted to adopt the abstinence-only program, but also voted to require all 12 modules of the “Rise to Your Dreams” curriculum . . . the same curriculum mandatory in abstinence-plus. We wanted to know why.

For one, Board Member David Troutman thought that the topics covered in abstinence-plus were too explicit for sixth graders, believing incorrectly that middle-schoolers don’t have sex until high school. Second, Board President Wayne Barnett believes that the abstinence-only plan allowed for local flexibility, wrongly thinking that their local people know more about the subject of youth sexual health, disregarding years of scientific research and data about what sex education curriculum works. Finally, sometimes it is just easier to choose abstinence-only over other forms of sex education in communities that are more hostile to teen sexuality and anything other than abstinence in the classroom, which is merely an excuse for cowardice and reluctance to stand up and fight for the sexual rights of youth. As Mississippi is full of communities like this, the mixture appears to serve as “middle ground” between the two.

But why was Natchez-Adams’ School Board pressured into making a decision?

In 2011, Governor Haley Barbour signed the House Bill 999, a law that requires all Mississippi school districts to teach either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus. Both curriculums are approved by the state Department of Education (DE), even though they both have drastically different implications for the sexual health of youth as discussed previously. All districts had until June 30 to decide which curriculum to adopt for the 2012-2013 school year.

This law was implemented in response to the fact that Mississippi has the highest teen birth rate in the nation and one of the highest AIDS statistics. In fact, the teen birth rate in Quitman County alone far exceeds the national average. In 2009, teen childbearing cost taxpayers $155,000,000. Sounds shocking? Not really, considering that Mississippi did not require sex education to be taught in schools until House Bill 999. Before this law, only a fraction of teens received formal sex education, with these programs varying widely in approach and accuracy. It’s no wonder why Mississippi is in this atrocious state.

Abstinence-Only

Abstinence-Plus

Tupelo County School District

Houston County School District

Lee Country School District

Natchez-Adams County School District

Corinth County School District

Leflore County School District

Neshoba County School District

Starkville Country School District

Amory County School District

Greenwood County School District

Hattiesburg County School District

Oxford County School District (Initial Abstinence-only decision reversed)

West Point County School District (Unofficial)

Ocean Springs County School District

Jackson County School District

Pascagoula County School District

George County School District

Moss Point County School District

Table: A list of some of the County School Districts and their decisions regarding House Bill 999. (Not a full list)

Although an obvious disadvantage to students who will be subjected to abstinence-only curriculum, let’s hope that the Department of Education will notice the huge disparities between the sexual health of students who were placed in abstinence-only versus abstinence-plus. Maybe then they will enforce universal abstinence-plus sex education for all public schools in Mississippi, as this bill should have mandated. And as time goes on, maybe they will upgrade to comprehensive sex education, cultivating positive sexual behavior and decision-making of Mississippians in ways they could not have even fathomed before.

Creative Commons Image by: Ken Lund

Alifa Watkins

Alifa Watkins

Alifa Watkins is an honors student at American University (Washington, DC) majoring in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. Her interests in sex education and youth sexual health motivates her research, blogging, and activism for comprehensive sex education, more progressive attitudes about adolescent sexuality, and the improvement of sexual health outcomes in America.
Alifa Watkins