Is abstinence-based sex ed to blame for high STD rates?

Louisiana ranks first in the nation for syphilis rates and second for HIV, chlamydia and gonorrhea, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How can the state work to lower these diagnosis rates? NSU Director of Health Services Stephanie Campbell believes beginning sex education programs sooner is the key and emphasizes age-appropriate instruction.

“I think that you could start with someone even who is 10 or 11 years old,” she says. “As the maturity advanced and the development advanced, then you would need to step it up some.”

The Louisiana State Legislature last revised its sex education directive in 1993.

In brief, the legislation says public schools are permitted, though not required, to provide sex education via school board-approved instructors as a part of science, physical education or similar coursework. This instruction must be based in biological and pathological information and cannot include religious beliefs, human sexuality practices or any person’s moral or ethical standpoint.

Information provided in this instruction may pertain to puberty, menstruation, menopause, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and childbirth. Instruction must emphasize abstinence outside of marriage as “the expected standard for all school-age children.”

Further, public schools are not permitted to distribute contraceptives or abortifacients, cannot depict male or female homosexual activity in their instruction and cannot council or advocate abortion by any means.

Lawmakers have made efforts in recent years to diversify topics covered in sex education and to allow the CDC to anonymously gather data from high school students about their sexual activity, though these efforts have all been struck down.

One opponent to the CDC surveying students’ sexual activity, Sen. Gerald Long, believes Louisiana’s almost nation-leading adolescent STD rates reflect a “social and moral and spiritual problem,” and further suggested they are unlikely to tell the truth in such surveys anyway.

Senior biology major Taylor Powell grew up in the Louisiana public school system and remembers infrequent and general information about sex, primarily about anatomy, during elementary school. Her health class in high school, however, covered it extensively.

“That specific teacher seemed to push abstinence pretty hard,” she says, also recalling a visitor from Shreveport’s Crisis Pregnancy Center who did the same: discouraging premarital sex and saying condoms were not effective enough.

Later in high school, Powell took classes in biology, human anatomy and physiology and recalled those teachers covering birth control methods more extensively.

“It depended on the teacher,” which topics under the sex education umbrella were covered, she says.

If Powell were at the helm, she would recommend legislators take the following action: acknowledge abortion as an option to terminate a pregnancy; encourage school boards to be strict in authorizing sex education teachers; have teachers explain how different birth control methods work and their effectiveness with preventing pregnancy and STDs; and have teachers address homosexuality.

“I think if we would have been exposed earlier, it would have been more effective,” Powell says, in agreement with Campbell. “They need to be more realistic. Kids are having sex, and I feel like schools are pretending that people don’t have sex until they are 18.”

According to a study conducted by the Louisiana Public Health Institute and the Institute of Women & Ethnic Studies, 74 percent of parents believe schools should be required to offer sex education, and more than 60 percent believe their child has received or will receive such instruction in school.

In reality, however, the state does not require or monitor sex education. Aimed at improving the sexual health of Louisiana, LPHI created the Geaux Talk campaign in December 2017 to provide free comprehensive sex education – i.e., teaching abstinence alongside risk-reducing strategies to prevent pregnancy and STDs – to educators, caregivers and students that closer aligns to what they want to receive.

To access this information or to learn how to influence state policy regarding sex education, visit

Alec Horton

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