West Virginia lawmakers are forming a subcommittee to consider the potential shortfalls in the sexual education that public school students currently receive in their health classes. A regular survey of middle and high school students continues to deliver sobering statistics about teenagers’ sexual health — particularly the fact that the overwhelming majority of teens in West Virginia don’t use any form of birth control.
The 2011 survey polled about 40,000 students and found that although more than half of West Virginia’s minors are engaging in sexual activity, a staggering 74.5 percent are not using birth control. That’s only a slight decrease from the 1993 results, when 79.5 percent of teens reported they didn’t use any form of contraception. The number of students who reported they had never learned anything about preventing HIV/AIDS infection also showed little change between 1993 and 2011, barely declining from 12.9 percent to 12 percent.
Doug Chapman, the assistant director of the Office of Healthy Schools for West Virginia’s Department of Education, acknowledged that the bad news in the survey might be an impetus for lawmakers to update the state’s approach to sex ed. “We do need to have better health education,” Chapman told the Register-Herald.
West Virginia does require public schools to offer sex education and HIV education, but there are no standards for ensuring that sexual health material is medically accurate and unbiased by religion. Chapman also pointed out that students at an elementary level don’t receive any comprehensive health information.
However, despite the stark results from the health survey — and the fact that teenage pregnancy isn’t declining at all in West Virginia even as teen birth rates have been plummeting across the country — the state lawmakers on the new panel may be slow to action. The subcommittee hasn’t yet decided whether to recommend a state-wide study to assess the possibility of implementing sex education across the public school system, and some committee members are still clinging to the misguided idea that shame-based abstinence curricula can impart accurate health information to teenagers. “Isn’t [abstinence] always the best way to make sure you don’t get sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies?” one lawmaker said to justify her resistance to teaching sex ed at the grade school level.