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Sex Education in South Carolina Still Failing 25 Years After Passage of Comprehensive Law

11:13 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Greetings from South Carolina

Greetings from South Carolina

Written by Martha Kempner for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

In 1988, the South Carolina legislature passed the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA) which was designed to standardize health education instruction in the state in order to “reduce substantially the amount of money the state spends to care for teenage mothers and their often sickly babies.” We can argue about the language and motives behind the legislation but the process of standardizing how young people learn about health is an important one that many states still have not undertaken.

South Carolina was certainly ahead of the curve passing such a bill so long ago (I was still in high school in 1988), but 25 years later there are questions as to how effective the law has been since sexual health statistics show South Carolina struggling with teen birth rates and sexually transmitted disease (STD) rates higher than the national average.

A new report assesses the current status of health education with a focus on the reproductive health component. A Sterling Opportunity: 25 Years After the Comprehensive Health Education Act was conducted by Health Advocates LLC and the New Morning Foundation using a Department of Education survey of school districts in the state. The authors wanted to determine whether districts were following the parameters of the CHEA, what they were teaching, how well those teaching the subject were trained, and what materials they were using. The authors found a number of places where schools were failing to follow the law and providing inadequate — and in some cases inaccurate and outdated — information to students.

While the findings are not as outrageous as some found in other states, they shed important light on the situation in South Carolina which is struggling with a few issues: a law that has some good components and some highly restrictive ones, misunderstandings about what the law does and doesn’t require, and a complete lack of accountability.

The Law

The CHEA is very prescriptive in what is required as well as what is prohibited in health education including reproductive health education and teen pregnancy prevention. For example, it requires that each year students in grades nine through 12 receive comprehensive health education that includes at least 750 minutes of reproductive health education and pregnancy prevention education. Sixth through eighth graders are also supposed to receive reproductive health education which must include STD information. It may also include information on contraception, though this is up to the local school board.

The law does restrict sexuality education to a certain extent. It requires an emphasis on abstinence, says that contraception information must be provided in the context of future planning, and directs schools to present adoption as a “positive alternative.” In addition, schools cannot provide any information about abortions, distribute contraception of any kinds, or show films that portray actual or simulated sexual activity. Finally (and I’d argue most disturbingly), the law states that “health education classes may not include discussions of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships” except in the context of STDs.

Despite these conservative aspects, the sexuality education component of the law has been controversial since the law was passed. In fact, there have been a number of attempts to change that part of the law. The report notes one amendment to the law proposed in 1998 that sought to change the purpose of the CHEA from “promote responsible sexual behavior,” to “the goal of this act is to reduce the incidence of sexual activity among school aged youth.” In 2004, there was an attempt to reduce the amount of sex education instruction from a minimum of 750 minutes per year to a maximum of 200 minutes. These challenges have failed.

The law also has administrative aspects such as teacher training requirements; an “opt-out” provision that allows parents to remove their children from the reproductive health portion of the course; and a requirement that districts assemble an advisory board of parents, teachers, and clergy to review materials.

Even though the law remains in place, according to the report many school districts are not following it. In fact, the study found that 75 percent of the districts surveyed were out of compliance with some piece of the reproductive health portion of the CHEA.

The Findings

Schools were out of compliance on issues related to time spent on reproductive health, teacher training, and administration. For example:

  • 66 percent of districts that responded did not teach STD and HIV prevention in all three middle school grades.
  • 23 percent of districts that responded did not have the appropriate community members on their advisory boards.
  • 12 percent of districts that responded did not provide the required teacher training.

Interestingly, 96 percent of districts that responded reported teaching all 750 required minutes of reproductive health in high school.
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World Contraception Day: Myths, Rumors, and Rubbish

11:53 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by the IPPF Live for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Published in partnership with the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF) Live blog.

An empty birth control holder discarded on the street.

Photo: Beatrice Murch / Flickr

Crocodile feces, honey, dates, hot mercury, fish, opium, half a lemon, disinfectant, cola, animal intestines, weasel testicles, a hare’s anus, and the toxic sludge from a blacksmith’s workshop. Sounds like the contents of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen cupboard.

In fact, these ingredients, in various combinations, have all been ingested, inserted, digested, or applied as contraceptive measures over the years. Few of them worked. Many resulted in death.

Wednesday, September 26th, is World Contraception Day. This is a day of campaigning for a world in which “every pregnancy is wanted.” Its mission is to improve awareness of contraception among young people, so that they can make informed decisions about their sexual and reproductive health (SRH).

Times have moved on since the days of such weird concoctions. More than 20 different methods of long-acting and short-acting hormonal and barrier contraception are now available, many of which are 99-percent-plus effective.

But strange superstitions live on. Take the pill, and you’ll gain weight, grow a beard, become infertile, and smell funny. HIV and STI cells are so small, so the story goes, that they can slip through the walls of a condom.

You can’t get pregnant if the girl’s on top, if you jump up and down afterwards, if you don’t have an orgasm, or if you have sex in a hot bath. (How hot? What size bath?) Plastic wrap works as well as a condom, toothpaste is an effective spermicide, and, of course, no one gets pregnant the first time.

Wrong, wrong, wrong, of course. But if your only access to information is peer-group-led Internet chat and street-corner gossip; if your mom, dad, and teachers consider sex totally taboo; if your doctor doesn’t approve; and you can’t get advice or supplies … well, basically, you’re stuffed.

There are people who say young people shouldn’t have sex until a relationship is seen to have some kind of social or religious legitimacy. There are people who say, whether you like it or not, many young people will have sex regardless of such strictures.

Either way — whether sex takes place on a wedding night, or before — it seems sensible to take the simple precautionary measure of ensuring that young people (or any people for that matter) know what they’re doing and are aware of the possible complications that attach. That applies whether people see it as a procreational duty, as a way of expressing love, or as something that is simply fun. Whatever way people choose to look at it, sex is an essential, enjoyable, and rewarding aspect of being alive. (Well, isn’t it?)

Look at it like driving. You can’t suddenly jump in a car one night and drive off safely if you don’t know the rules of the road, you’ve got no insurance, and you haven’t got the foggiest idea what the different pedals, switches, and controls are all designed to do, or where they are. So, why do we expect anyone (whether on his or her wedding night or not) to suddenly jump into a sexual union and head off safely into the sunset?

The earliest known illustration of a man using a condom is in a cave painting in France. It’s reckoned to be 12,000 to 15,000 years old. Clearly, this is where Stone- Age students gathered to take part in the world’s first comprehenisve sexuality-education program.

Have we moved on from the Stone Age?

Grandma Sarah May Want to Rethink Her Position on Sex Education

11:38 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

"BusyBodies Sex Education Resource for Parents"

"BusyBodies Sex Education Resource for Parents" by crisispregnancyprogramme on flickr

Written by Martha Kempner for This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Track Palin gets far less attention than his now famous sister Bristol, his nephew Tripp, and even his little brother Trigg who was born just five months before the family was thrust into the national political spotlight. Even I, who seems to write about this family every week, pretty much forgot about him. I even missed the announcement in May that he had married his high school sweetheart Britta Hanson in a small, family-only ceremony on an Alaskan ski-slope.

Last week, Track made headlines again when it was reported that his new wife is expecting and seems to be rather far along. Though the couple has only been married for two months, pictures of her on Facebook show her very pregnant and surrounded by what appear to be baby shower gifts (something most moms-to-be don’t get until somewhere around month eight). Gossip headlines screamed shotgun wedding but that doesn’t seem exactly fair.

First of all, they’re adults; Track, 22, was on active duty in Iraq for a year and is currently an Army reservist and commercial fisherman in Alaska, Britta, 21, is a nursing student at the University of Alaska. And, from all accounts they’re in a stable, long-term relationship that spans most of their lives. So, it does not surprise me that they had sex before they got married (in fact, it would surprise me if they hadn’t). The fact that she probably got pregnant before they got married does, however, suggest that the pregnancy was unplanned and once again makes one question the Palin family’s views on abstinence education. Read the rest of this entry →

Maria Talks and Suddenly Lawmakers are Listening: The Controversy Over A Website Providing Sex Information for Teens

7:47 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Martha Kempner for - News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Maria Talks, a website with frank sexual health information for young people, has become quite controversial in its home state of Massachusetts since a Boston Herald article in April questioned whether its contents were appropriate. After the article, a number of state legislators announced they were outraged by the site.  Some noted that the information about sex was too graphic—Representative Elizabeth Poirier (R-North Attleborough) went so far as to say “the language used on the site is disgusting. There are words that I would find difficult to speak…”  Others, possibly spurred on by complaints from Massachusetts Citizens for Life, took issue with the website’s description of abortion and, in particular, its explanation of the process by which young women in the state can obtain an abortion without their parents’ permission if necessary.  

The website, which is maintained by the non-profit AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, receives an annual grant of $100,000 from the state Department of Public Health.  Some critics have been putting pressure on the Department to change the content of the site while others, including the state’s four Catholic Bishops, have been focusing on getting Governor Deval Patrick to cut funding for it all together.

Today I spoke to Sophie Godley, a clinical assistant professor in the Community Health Sciences Department at Boston University’s School of Public Health, to get her take on the controversy.  Sophie formerly served as the Deputy Director of AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts and was responsible for creating and launching Maria Talks in 2007. 

RHRC: What was the impetus for creating the site?

Godley: It actually started as a way to provide information about emergency contraception (EC).  We knew from some of the data collected at the state level that there was a real lack of knowledge about the existence of EC.  So, we went out and did focus groups in key high risk communities (communities with high STIs, low high school graduation, and high teen birth rates).  When we talked to these young people, we found out very quickly that if we hung out a shingle that said “learn about emergency contraception” they would not access the site.  They reported that they didn’t like the term emergency contraception (they found it alarming).  

More importantly, however, they had much more fundamental questions: How do I say no to someone who is pressuring me?  How do I know if I’m ready to have sex?  Who can I talk to about these issues?  We also heard again and again that what these young people sought most of all was a trusted person they could talk to—someone like an older sister.  Hence, Maria was born.

Read more

Stacey Campfield’s Tennessee Gag Order on Gays

7:33 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Kathleen Reeves for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Last week, Tennessee’s State Senate passed out of committee SB49, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield, proposed this bill without luck for six years when he was a member of the House. Presumably too idiotic for state legislators in the past, the bill is now on the floor!

While the bill would technically outlaw discussion of homosexuality in the classroom before the ninth grade, its practical effects are unclear, for many reasons. First, Tennesee’s current guidelines on sexuality education, referred to (tellingly) as the “family life curriculum,” are vague and poorly-enforced. Family life education is overseen by Local Education Agencies, which often receive insufficient guidance from the state. As a result, sexuality education in Tennessee (such as it exists) is shrouded in darkness: it’s unclear what children and teenagers are learning, what and who their sources of knowledge are, and how effective this “curriculum” is.

One clear element of the state’s policy on sex ed is the mandatory promotion of abstinence. Every course on sexual health must “include presentations encouraging abstinence from sexual intercourse during the teen and pre-teen years,” according to the SIECUS report cited above. So Stacey Campfield’s insistence on banning gay talk seems redundant. … Read more

Arguing with Myself: Tastefulness, Censorship, and the Sex-Toy Demonstration

7:22 am in Uncategorized by RH Reality Check

Written by Patrick Malone for – News, commentary and community for reproductive health and justice.

Maybe I’m just getting old.  As my 32nd birthday looms ominously at the end of this month, I have started to see some of the telltale signs that I can no longer count myself among the ranks of the young.  If I don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep, I’m ruined the next day.  I select food at the supermarket with a much greater focus on trans-fat than flavor.  I drink tea.  Tea!  My only consolation is that at least I, unlike some others, recognize that I am getting older and have attempted to gracefully hang up my shiny clubbing shirt in favor of my comfortable, stained sweatshirt.

It is within this context that I have tried to approach the recent controversy at Northwestern University.  To briefly summarize, Professor John Michael Bailey, who teaches a large human sexuality class at Northwestern, held a supplemental session after one class, where a naked, non-student female was stimulated with what I have seen described alternatively as a “high-powered” or “motorized” sex toy.  That’s really all the detail we need to get into on that.  About 100 students, who were completely informed on the explicit nature of the content, chose to stay and watch.  Surprisingly, Bailey was shocked when protests and complaints appeared almost immediately, as he saw the exercise as completely in tune with the mission of his course.  He viewed the reaction as a division between people like him who “see absolutely no harm in what happened, and those who believe that it was profoundly wrong.”

I don’t think Professor Bailey is quite right here.  There has to be a middle ground between “absolutely no harm” and “profoundly wrong.”  I have always been proud that progressives are often able to see things in a nuanced way, not just black or white, or right or wrong. … Read more