Opinion: Mississippi public schools should require sex ed course to reduce teen pregnancy and STDs

Chip Cossar
Oxford Stories

Preaching to children about abstinence is unrealistic. When you know teens are having sex, you should inform them about the consequences.

Mississippi public schools have the option to teach “abstinence only” or “abstinence-plus” classes. I attended a high school with the “abstinence only” agenda. My sophomore year, I had classes with four girls who were pregnant.

Telling teens not to have sex is not going to keep them from doing it, but educating them about it might have an impact. Instead, the school system lets them find out on their own, and many become mothers and fathers.

Year after year, Mississippi remains one of the states with the highest teen pregnancy rates, and until we take action, it will not change.

More than 20,000,000 STD infections occur each year in the United States. According to the Center for Disease Control, adolescents ages 15 to 24 account for half of them. Every year, 750,000 teens ages 15 to 19 become pregnant, and 80 percent of these pregnancies are unintended.

Mississippi contributes greatly to these numbers. The state has one of the highest teen pregnancy and STD rates in the nation. With this knowledge, why would one not want to inform high school students about the consequences of having sex?

Considering these facts, Mississippi high schools should implement a sexual education course in their curriculum to decrease the rate of unplanned pregnancies, STDs and dropout rates.

Mississippi has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation, with 76 teen girls for every 1,000 becoming pregnant. According to the Mississippi Department of Health – of these high school mothers – only about half receive a high school diploma by age 22.

In fact, a study by the Journal of Adolescent Health reports that people who received a sexual education course were 50 percent less likely to have an unintended pregnancy.

Many parents tell themselves their teens will remain abstinent. However, they are exposed to sex through media, television, magazines and music. It has become more difficult to shelter children, and many are curious.

In a sexual education course, students could be separated by gender. They could ask any questions they want to ask, and they would be taught the correct words for many “street names” of terms they hear. The course would cover sex myths, such as not being able to get pregnant the first time, etc.

Mississippi is one of the most sexually active states among high school students. According to the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 61 percent of high school students reported having sex; 13 percent reported having sex before the age of 13; 58 percent report having sex by the end of their senior year.

These statistics alone should be reason enough to have a required sexual education class in the Mississippi public school system.

The school system should also teach STD education, because Mississippi leads the nation in this category. With some STDs, such as chlamydia, Mississippi ranks second among the highest reported cases, at 722 people for every 100,000 diagnosed.

Of those cases, more than 7,000 were between the ages of 15 and 19. Implementing a mandatory sexual education class would hopefully help reduce these numbers. Nurses and teachers should emphasize the importance of safe sex and ways to practice it.

While this course would teach students about sexual dangers, it would consequently be reducing dropout rates in a state where state test scores are below the national average. As teen pregnancy rates increase, so do these rates.

Mississippi ranks 49th in graduation rates. The National Survey of Family Growth reports that teens ages 15 and 19 who have had a comprehensive sexual education class have 50 percent less pregnancies than those who received abstinence-only sexual education classes. Forty percent of these students, who were given comprehensive sexual education, delayed sexual initiation.

Parents do their children an injustice by not educating them about the dangers of having unprotected sex. In a study conducted by the World Health Organization of 35 sexual education programs around the world, there was no evidence that they encouraged sexual activity.

Mississippi needs a detailed, medically accurate, representation of sexual education that would help reduce dropout rates, unplanned pregnancies and STDs.

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