During the 2023 legislative session, Mississippi lawmakers passed a bill that takes the expiration date off the state’s current sex ed law.
The law, originally passed as House Bill 999 in 2011, says that public school districts in Mississippi are required to implement sex education. The law requires each public school district in the state to choose between an “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus” sex ed policy and a corresponding sex ed curriculum approved by the Mississippi Department of Education. The law has been reauthorized twice since originally passing (during the 2016 and 2021 legislative sessions).
During the 2023 legislative session, HB 1390 was passed by lawmakers and signed by the Governor on April 19. Because of this new law, as of July 1 the state’s sex ed law has no expiration date, meaning the law will likely not be changed or amended any time soon.
HB 1390 also gives schools the option to choose a “sexual risk avoidance” sex education policy and curriculum. Such a policy adoption would allow public school districts to apply for Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) program grants to help fund sex education programming in their schools. SRAE, which is administered by the Family and Youth Services Bureau, promotes abstinence-only education.
Abstinence-Only v. Abstinence-Plus
So what’s the difference between abstinence-only and abstinence-plus sex ed, and are they effective?
Abstinence-only education promotes abstinence until marriage but does not include information and resources on protecting against unintended pregnancies and transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
Abstinence-plus education still encourages abstinence but includes information on other methods of protection against unintended pregnancies and STIs, including correct and consistent use of contraceptives.
Research has shown that abstinence-only sex education programs are ineffective. A study from Mathematica found that students in abstinence-only programs are just as likely to have sex as other students. A lack of information and resources, which is consistent in abstinence-only sex ed classes, increases risks for unplanned pregnancy and STIs. Mississippi is currently number one in the nation for teen birth and STD rates.
Mississippi Youth Deserve More
Since 2016, Mississippi youth have called for legislators to improve the state’s sex education law—these calls have largely gone unheard. They have advocated for sex ed curriculum that removes stigmatizing language and covers consent, intimate partner violence, a range of contraceptive options, healthy relationships, gender identity, cyberbullying, and normal reproductive development.
Mississippi youth deserve more. They deserve sex ed that is research-based, medically accurate, trauma-informed, and accessible to more youth.
We and our partners will continue fighting alongside young people to improve sex education for all youth.
Learn more about our work at how to get involved at teenhealthms.org.