The results of a parent poll conducted by Mississippi State Universityshow that 92% of parents with children in public school support teaching age-appropriate sex education in schools. The statewide survey garnered a representative sample of 3,600 parents/guardians evenly distributed across the state. The poll was conducted to assess parent/guardian views on the subject after a law was passed earlier this year to require all school districts to teach some form of sex education. Previous Mississippi lawdid not require that sex education be taught. The results of the poll were released on December 9 during a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Summit in Jackson, Mississippi.
The poll results reflect similar polling data from around the country, which show that a vast majority of Americans support medically accurate, age-appropriate education that includes information about abstinence and contraception, and believe that young people should be given information about how to protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Indeed, a national poll conducted in 2004 by Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government found that 93% of parents of junior high school students and 91% of parents of high school students believe it is very or somewhat important to have sexuality education as part of the school curriculum. What’s more, 95% of parents of junior high school students and 93% of parents of high school students believe that birth control and other methods of preventing pregnancy are appropriate topics for sexuality education provided in school.
The Mississippi poll found that nine in ten parents believe that sex education should teach the benefits of abstaining from sexual activity (96.3%) and about the transmission and prevention of HIV/AIDS and other STDs (92.3%). Parents also believe that sex education should include discussion about birth control methods (90.3%) and how to get tested for STDs (91.4%). These results seem to indicate an awareness and growing concern for the severe sexual health disparities that young people face in Mississippi. The state has the highest teen birth rate in the country as well as the highest HIV infection rate among young people ages 13–19. What’s more, Mississippi ranks first and second in the nation for cases of gonorrhea and Chlamydia, respectively; and young people make up more than two-thirds of those infected.
The state’s new governor, Phil Bryant, even addressed the issue of teen pregnancy in his inauguration speech, asserting that it needed to be combated as a social as well as public health issue. “[We] must realize that the highest teen pregnancy rate in America will eventually cripple our state. Such a change in a societal norm is possible,” stated Bryant. “Every church, health care provider, teacher, and employer must help in identifying teen pregnancy as an activity more devastating than smoking. Friends, we can no longer turn our heads and pretend the problem doesn’t exist. Teen pregnancy in Mississippi must be reduced if we are to reach our full potential.”
Clearly the high infection rate of sexually transmitted diseases among young people must be given equal attention. Dr. Nicholas Mosca, director of the state’s STD/HIV Office, argues that schools need to offer STD testing to help prevent the spread of infection.
The state’s new sex education mandateholds school districts responsible for providing students with the information they need to protect their sexual health. While districts may choose to offer either an “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus” curriculum, the polling results show that parents overwhelmingly support abstinence-plus education—which, unlike abstinence-only, may address the broader sexual health topics that parents believe should be taught, including contraception and STD/HIV transmission and prevention.
Mississippi school districts are required to begin implementing sex education during the 2012–2013 school year. So far, an increasing number of districts have chosen to adopt an abstinence-plus policy. As of December 30, 2011, a total of seven school districts had adopted an abstinence-plus policy while only one school district had adopted an abstinence-only policy.
“The parent poll confirms what advocates in the field have been hearing from communities for years—parents want schools involved in teaching their child medically accurate information about the best ways to prevent teen pregnancy and disease,” comments Rachel Canter, executive director of Mississippi First, a statewide organization promoting progressive education reform. “Parents understand the pressures that their children are under to engage in risky sexual behavior, and they know that having trusted adults in schools re-affirm messages about abstinence, contraception, and healthy relationships will help their children make the best decisions.”
Colleen McKee et al., Parental Survey on Sex Education in Mississippi: Implications for House Bill 999, (Jackson, MS: Center for Mississippi Health Policy, 2011), accessed 9 February 2012, <http://www.mshealthpolicy.com/documents/Sex-EdFinalReportMSU11-8-11.pdf>.
National Public Radio/Kaiser Family Foundation/Kennedy School of Government, Sex Education in America: General Public/Parents Survey (Washington, DC: Kaiser Family Foundation, 2004).
McKee, et al., Parental Survey on Sex Education in Mississippi.
Ibid., 4; see also Nicholas G. Mosca and Kendra Johnson, “Overview of Sexual Health Statistics: Mississippi vs. U.S.,” accessed 18 January 2012, <http://www.womensfundms.org/documents/DrMoscahandout.pdf>.
“Phil Bryant Sworn In as the 64th Governor of Mississippi,” Phil Bryant Transition, 10 January 2012, accessed 18 January 2012, <http://www.philbryanttransition.com/phil-bryant-sworn-in-as-the-64th-governor-of-mississippi%E2%80%A8/>.
Jerry Mitchell, “Study: Parents Favor Sex Ed,” Clarion Ledger (Jackson, MS), 9 December 2011.