The majority of South Carolina’s 85 school districts aren’t following the state-mandated guidelines for sexual health education, a new report finds. Despite the fact that state lawmakers passed a Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA) in 1988 in an attempt to hold public schools to the same sex ed standards, health classes across South Carolina are falling short — with direct consequences for the state’s teens, who are having more unsafe sex than they were five years ago.
The report reveals that three out of every four South Carolina school districts weren’t following at least one guideline in the state’s sex ed law. Researchers found that many public schools’ health curricula didn’t adhere to standards about scientific accuracy, and included little to no instruction about preventative health measures like birth control or condoms. And even though state law attempts to establish comprehensive sexual health courses for South Carolina students, the researchers discovered that shame-based abstinence education still dominate many classrooms:
It was also revealed that discriminatory and misleading curricula and instructional materials still exist in some school districts. Students in some school districts are exposed to reproductive health education that includes outdated gender roles, idealized family structures, and medically inaccurate information. A number of districts report using abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) curricula, and these program materials are often rife with incomplete, misleading, and blatantly incorrect information.
Specifically, students within these programs are commonly presented misinformation regarding human papillomavirus (HPV) and condom efficacy. Such materials commonly do not include scientific discussions of condoms as a preventive measure to reduce transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. It is recommended the CHEA be amended to require instruction in reproductive health education evidence-based and medically-accurate.
And that type of inadequate instruction is South Carolina is having a negative impact on the state’s adolescents, whose rates of condom use are actually declining — an estimated 58 percent of sexually active teens used condoms in 2011, compared to 67 percent in 2005. South Carolina, ranked a lowly 42nd in the nation in overall sexual health, consistently has some of the nation’s highest rates of HIV infections, gonorrhea and chlamydia cases, and teen births.
“We hope this report stimulates conversations at the state and local levels about health education, sexuality education, teen pregnancy prevention, and how all adolescent health risk behaviors affect high school graduation rates and, ultimately, the future of South Carolina,” one of the research analysts told the Palmetto Public Record. A similar conversation is already beginning in other deeply conservative states like West Virginia, Mississippi, and Alabama, where some lawmakers are considering updating sexual education standards in light of the failures of abstinence-only education.