One would think that the state with the highest rate of teen pregnancy would be desperate to do something about the issue especially when they acknowledge that the issue is causing them around $150 million in state and federal dollars, this is according to Marianne Hill, a senior economist with the Mississippi Institutions of Higher Learning. (Byrd, 2009) Yet when Senate Bill 2291 approached that topic by asking for a pilot program of sex education programs to be instituted in schools, the bill died in committee. (MS Legislature, 2009) One of the issues apparently that Representatives have with the issue of sex education is “”What everybody’s afraid to say is what method would they use to demonstrate how to use a prophylactic?” said Sen. Lee Yancy (R-Brandon).”Is that something an eighth-grader or sixth-grader needs to see?” (CDC 2009) Well the simple answer to that is found in the data; 54.5% of 9th graders in Mississippi are reported to be sexually active. (CDC 2008) So yes absolutely an 8th grader needs to see how to use a condom. The data proves that abstinence only education is not working, changes must be made if the state hopes to advance as we continue into the 21st century.
Teen age pregnancy is a critical issue in the US and especially in the state of MS
While the US in general is reporting lower rates of teenage pregnancy “Teenage parenting continues to be a significant social problem despite dramatic declines in the rates of adolescent pregnancy and childbearing in the United States since the early 1990s. More than 750,000 teens become pregnant each year, with more than 50% resulting in live births.” (Whitman, Borkowski, Keogh & Weed, 2001) This is not the case for Mississippi “The Centers for Disease Control released a new report today that found that Mississippi “now has the nation’s highest teen pregnancy rate, displacing Texas and New Mexico for that lamentable title.” The report found that in 2006, the Mississippi teen pregnancy rate was over 60 percent higher than the national average and increased 13 percent since the year before.” (Powers 2009) While there is no conclusive reason to state why teen pregnancy is so high in the state, it is questionable that “Mississippi focuses heavily on abstinence education and teachers are prohibited from demonstrating how to use contraceptives: Mississippi schools are not required to teach sexuality education or sexually transmitted disease (STD)/HIV education.If schools choose to teach either or both forms of education, they must stress abstinence-until-marriage, including “the likely negative psychological and physical effects of not abstaining.” (Powers 2009) The fact that they are willing to omit teaching of STD/HIV education when reported rates of STD infections are at Chlamydia has a rate of 745% or 16,718 people, Gonorrhea a rate of 286% or 8,314 people and Syphilis has a rate of 4.6% or 133 people, is terrifying. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 2007)
Abstinence only programs don’t have documented success rates
While obviously it is true that abstinence is the only form of prevention that has 100% guaranteed success rate, it is reliant on people actually using it. For whatever reasons, the data on births in the state show that young Mississippians are not abstaining. Therefore we should look at the education procedures that are being used and what the alternatives are. “It may be the case that … some abstinence-only programs may be effective at changing behavior and some may not, and particular programmatic characteristics may distinguish effective programs from ineffective ones. If this is true, then communities wishing to put abstinence-only programs in place may increase their chances of selecting effective ones if they choose programs with the common characteristics of effective sex and HIV education programs” (Kirby 2002)
Since there are many reasons that communities favor abstinence only education, there have been studies to see whether there is any evidence as to the effectiveness of these programs. “The Task Force on Community Preventive Services appointed by the CDC recommends group-based comprehensive risk reduction for adolescents to reduce the risk of pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections. There was insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of abstinence-only education in reducing these same risks.” (MS State Dept of Health, 2009)
While we do not know for sure that abstinence only programs are effective it is known that “Teenagers who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are just as likely to have premarital sex as those who do not promise abstinence and are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control when they do, according to a study released today.” (Powers 2009) Seeing the data evident from Mississippi this is proven beyond a doubt. The fact is that while the idea of abstinence is a more comforting one when dealing with young people, it is not working and something needs to be done that will work.
Programs which advocate condom use and STD/HIV prevention do show success rates
Many people fear that by teaching anything other than abstinence only sex education, that teens will begin having sex earlier. This is plainly not true; in fact the truth is the opposite, many teens in sex education programs delay onset of sexual activity. “Evaluations of these programs strongly support the conclusion that sexuality and HIV education curricula do not increase sexual intercourse, either by hastening the onset of intercourse, increasing the frequency of intercourse, or increasing the number of sexual partners. Twenty-eight studies meeting the criteria discussed above have examined the impact of middle school, high school, or community-based sexuality or HIV education programs on the initiation of intercourse. Nine of them (or about one-third) found that the programs delayed the initiation of sex.” (Kirby 2002) Not only have they done studies to show the delay of sexual onset, but they show explicitly what about these programs are so successful. Speaking honestly and openly about these topics give teens the information and the confidence to react positively in these situations.
Effective curricula (a) focused on reducing one or more sexual behaviors that lead to unintended pregnancy or HIV/STD infection; (b) were based on theoretical approaches that have been demonstrated to be effective … which identified the important determinants of selected sexual and condom or contraceptive behaviors; (c) gave a clear message about sexual activity and condom or contraceptive use and continually reinforced that message; (d) provided basic, accurate information about the risks of teen sexual activity and about methods of avoiding intercourse or using protection against pregnancy and STDs; (e) included activities that address social pressures that influence sexual behavior; (f) provided modeling and practice of communication, negotiation, and refusal skills; (g) employed a variety of teaching methods designed to involve the participants and have them personalize the information; (h) incorporated behavioral goals, teaching methods, and materials that were appropriate to the age, sexual experience, and culture of the students; (i) lasted a sufficient length of time to complete important activities adequately; and (j) selected teachers or peers who believed in the program they were implementing and then provided them with training. (Kirby 2002)
“Changes in sexual behaviors, however, usually are not determined by direct observations of behavior but by self-reports concerning those behaviors. Several reviews of the literature on pregnancy prevention indicate, despite the potential limitations of sexual behavioral outcome measures, that behavioral measures are superior to the other measures and are the best indicators of the effectiveness of prevention programs.” (Franklin, & Corcoran, 2000) Truth is that sex happens behind closed doors and that in almost any sex study we are reliant on people reporting what they do, unless results such as pregnancy or STD’s show that people have sex. So when determing what programs are most effective in delaying sexual activity we can go by what people say or the results of the data in cases of pregnancy and STD infections. So with that knowledge how do we know that sex education programs truly work? The answer is foun in the numbers. The states of MA and CT have roughly the same sized population as MS. Yet the other numbers are drastically different. “School districts in the Northeast and in urban and suburban communities are most likely to have a district-wide policy to teach sexuality education. School districts in the Midwest and in nonmetropolitan counties most often leave policy decisions to individual schools or teachers. Districts in the South are nearly five times more likely than those in the Northeast to have an abstinence-only policy.” (Farber, 2003)
“Number of Teen Births, Girls 15-19, 2006”
“Sexually Experienced by Grade”
Grade 9th, 2007
Grade 10th, 2007
Grade 11th, 2007
Grade 12th, 2007
Bringing sex education into the open, teaching people how to make responsible decisions, talking things through and not making the whole thing mysterious and frightening are the key factors in keeping STD and pregnancy rates in check. “In 1995, more than 50% of teenage girls reported using some method of contraception, although this varied by race/ethnicity. Moreover, as education to prevent AIDS continues to reach teenagers, already notable increases in teens’ use of condoms (54% of sexually active students reported using condoms at last intercourse in 1995 vs. 48% in 1988) may further reduce births to teens. Still, for many teenage girls, the willingness to use birth control continues to compete with their fears about and experiences of the negative side effects and their worry about the risk to their reputation if they are too prepared for or too assertive about sexual activity.” (Leadbeater & Way, 2001) If your daughters are too scared to speak up, what is the end result going to be?
Are beliefs worth your children’s and grandchildren’s health and lives? Is keeping your head in the sand over the believed innocence of your children really worth condemning the future to living a life of menial income, low education rates and disease? The facts show that abstinence is not working and that using condoms do keep your children safe. The time has come when it is imperative to admit that you made a poor decision and change it not just on the basis of babies being born to girls, but to the girls and boys who are living with STD’s because you won’t teach them better skills to keep themselves safe. Stick with the theme that abstinence is the best choice, but offer answers for what if that doesn’t work. Because the simple fact is that it is not currently working.