Pregnancy test and birth control pills

In study after study, scientifically-based and medically-accurate sex education programs have been shown to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But not all programs are created equal. In Mississippi, your school district’s sex education policy determines whether youth learn what they need to make smart decisions about their sexual health.

Mississippi’s Sex Education Policy

Since House Bill 999 became a state law in 2011, all Mississippi public school districts are required to adopt and implement a sex education policy, in addition to a curriculum approved by the Mississippi Department of Education. Mississippi’s sex education law requires schools to choose between abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education policies. This law does not apply to private schools and community-based organizations in the state.

Abstinence-Only Vs. Abstinence-Plus Sex Ed

You can probably make an educated guess on what abstinence-only sex education is, but you might be wondering what the “plus” in abstinence-plus sex education stands for.

According to the Mississippi Department of Education:

  • Abstinence-plus sex education programs encourage abstinence, but include information on contraception and other resources available for safe sex.
  • Abstinence-only sex education programs do not cover topics like birth control. They promote abstinence until marriage, teaching students how to build healthy relationships, the benefits of abstinence, and the consequences of premarital sex.

Implementation Requirements

The law also contains implementation requirements that have proven tricky for some districts. For example, boys and girls need to be separated for sex education classes and parents need to opt-in their child before they can attend the classes. The law also bans any physical demonstrations for contraceptives, including how to correctly use condoms. They also ban any discussion of abortion as a means to prevent pregnancy. 

The sex education law was originally scheduled to be phased out after five years. However the Mississippi Legislature voted in 2016 to extend it for five more years until July 1, 2021.

Decreasing Teen Pregnancy and STIs Through Education

THMS advocates for comprehensive sex education. However, given the restrictions in the current state law, we believe that educating youth through abstinence-plus programs is currently the most effective way to decrease Mississippi’s high teen pregnancy and STI rates.

According to the Youth-Risk Behavior Survey:

  • 48% of Mississippi high school students say they have had sex.
  • Of those students, 44.2% did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
  • In 2018, Mississippi had the highest gonorrhea infection rate and 3rd-highest chlamydia infection rate in the country. More than half of the cases of both diseases were individuals between 15 and 24 years old.

How can we reduce unintended teen pregnancies and STI rates if youth are not provided the knowledge and resources necessary to make informed decisions? Factual knowledge and access to contraceptives could drastically improve the sexual health and lives of Mississippi youth.

Through our Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens (CHART) program, Teen Health Mississippi works with the Mississippi State Department of Health to support school districts in implementing evidence-based, medically-accurate, and age-appropriate abstinence-plus sex education in Mississippi public schools.

“Our students have received the program well, and are excited about participating in sessions. One of our counselors stated it best, ‘Sex ed is a big deal, but we try not to make it a ‘big deal’ so that students become comfortable and active participants.”

— District administrator in a CHART school district

Why Not Abstinence-Only?

Abstinence-only sex education can lead to harmful lapses in sexual health resources and contraceptive options available to youth.

A study by Mathematica found that students in abstinence-only programs are just as likely to have sex as other students. But the difference is that these students aren’t equipped with the information or resources for preventing unintended pregnancies and transmitting STIs. This lapse in knowledge actually leads to higher teen birth rates and the spread of STIs.

House Bill 999 was intended to reduce teen pregnancy and STI rates in Mississippi through the power of education. However, that power is diminished when districts select abstinence-only sex education policies on top of the restrictive implementation requirements in our state’s sex education policy. Abstinence-only programs fail Mississippi students by not providing them with information about contraceptives that could help them make informed decisions about their health and lives.

What sex education policy did your school adopt? Is your school district a CHART district? Learn more about the CHART program and how to get involved. And, if you know a young person as passionate about comprehensive sex education for Mississippi students as we are, let them know about our youth activists on MYCouncil.

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