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.



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

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.