Mississippi law requires public schools to use approved sex-ed curriculum for either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus education. But what’s the difference between these two options, and are they effective for Mississippi students? If you’re looking to learn more about these approaches, we’ve broken them down into the basics.
Sex Education in Mississippi
The first thing to know is that the current Mississippi sex education law gives public school districts the choice to adopt abstinence-only or abstinence-plus education using a curriculum approved by the state. Abstinence-based education is the standard, with classes separated by gender and no demonstration of contraceptives or condoms allowed.
Abstinence-Only Education Definition
In the words of the Mississippi Board of Education, “Abstinence education refers to programs that promote abstinence-until-marriage as the expected standard of behavior. These programs provide students with information on building healthy relationships, the benefits of abstinence and the consequences of premarital sexual behavior.”
Broken down further according to Mississippi Code. § 37-13-171, abstinence-only education means focusing on:
- The benefits of abstaining from sexual activity and the negative effects of not abstaining
- The impact of raising a child outside of marriage
- Dealing with unwanted sexual advances and the effects of alcohol and drugs on decision making
- Abstinence as the only sure way to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, without any mention of abortion
- Current state laws regarding sexual activity
- Marriage as the only acceptable situation for intercourse
Abstinence-Plus Education Definition
How does abstinence-plus education compare? Again, according to the Board of Education: “Abstinence Plus education describes programs that encourages abstinence but includes information on contraception, and resources available for safer sex practices.”
In other words, schools that adopt abstinence-plus can offer evidence-based and age-appropriate facts about contraceptive options and their effectiveness related to pregnancy and sexual health. There is less of a focus on marriage or religion and more of a practical approach to healthy behaviors and decision-making.
Advocating for What Works
After nearly 10 years of this approach, the results of abstinence-only education aren’t promising. Teen pregnancy rates and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise, both in Mississippi and as seen in trends across the country. But this hasn’t meant an adjustment to sex education in schools or the policies that drive curriculum. According to community leaders, experts at the Centers for Disease Control, and teens themselves, we’re not providing students with an effective or even an adequate sex education.
Abstinence-plus education is the bright spot that holds promise for a better future, delaying sexual activity and risky sexual behaviors like unprotected sex. In Mississippi, our Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens (CHART) initiative offers free resources, tools, and support to school districts implementing abstinence-plus education. Now that CHART has been adopted in 21 counties, there’s momentum behind the fact that sex edudation that can lower teen birth and STD rates across the state.
What Could New Legislation Include?
Teen Health Mississippi thinks that legislators need to hear that our current sex education law isn’t working for youth. It’s critical that changes are made for all students. This means moving away from existing legislation and making new policies that:
- Give schools the power to decide if they will have mixed-gender classrooms
- Automatically enroll students in sex education with the option for parents to opt-out, rather than them opting students in, as is the current policy
- Expand curriculum to include information about effective contraceptive use as well as sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression
- Provide students with the tools to create healthy relationships and make healthy decisions
If you think change is necessary, join us in sharing these objectives with lawmakers. It’s easy to get started when you sign our petition to expand high-quality sex education for Mississippi youth.
When it comes to choosing between abstinence-plus education or abstinence-only, we think the facts stand for themselves. And that we need to stand up for the facts. Sex education should be updated to better serve youth, and we can all play a role in moving Mississippi forward.