The Failures Of Abstinence-Only Education Illustrated In 2 Charts


A new report on Mississippi’s sex education programs highlights how disastrous the state’s approach to teen sexuality has been over the past decade. The report, produced by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), notes that Mississippi has consistently had some of the worst sexual health indicators in the country. The state has the second highest rate of teen pregnancies, the second highest rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia infections, and the seventh highest rate of HIV infections.

Proponents of abstinence-only programs typically claim that teaching kids medically accurate information about their bodies will convince them to start having more sex, assuming that young adults need to be protected from sexually explicit content that could corrupt their innocence. But Mississippi throws a wrench into that logic.

Even though teens have been shielded from what might be deemed “inappropriate” sex ed content, SIECUS found that kids in the Magnolia State are actually having sex earlier and more frequently than the national average. Predictably, they’re also much less likely to know how to avoid unintended pregnancies:

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CREDIT: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States

This dynamic isn’t specific to Mississippi. Other conservative communities that emphasize abstinence aren’t seeing much success, either. A full 80 percent of evangelical Christians report having sex at least once before marriage — leading the evangelical community to slowly shift toward greater support for access to contraception.

If decreasing sexual activity is the goal, there’s actually a large body of research proving that comprehensive sex ed is an effective tool for accomplishing that. Kids who receive accurate information about sexuality, including information about how to protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies and STDs, are more likely to delay having sex until they’re older.

Fortunately, there’s progress on the horizon for the Magnolia State. A state law adopted in 2011 requires every school district to implement some type of sexual health instruction. Although schools may continue to teach abstinence-only courses, they can also choose to offer “abstinence plus” classes — which still emphasize waiting for marriage as the best approach to teen sexuality, but also include some more information about contraceptive methods. SIECUS and its allies are optimistic about the fact that 71 of Mississippi’s 151 school districts implemented “abstinence plus” curricula last school year.

“Despite overwhelmingly negative sexual health indicators, Mississippi poured millions of federal dollars into failed abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for nearly a decade. But now we have the chance to work with educators and administrators who want to do more for their students,” Sanford Johnson, the deputy director at Mississippi First, one of the organizations that partnered with SIECUS on its report, said in a statement.