By: Akil Brown, Limor Goldsmith, Vita McKey
The video below discusses comprehensive sex education, featuring Professor Daniel of the Newcomb Institute, an expert on the matter. Afterward, a more in-depth analysis of sex education in the United States and New Orleans highlights the importance of implementing reproductive health into school curriculums.
Speaking to members of the New Orleans community, researching national sex education standards, and viewing reproductive-health-related statistics have made it clear that a comprehensive plan to reform the sex-education curriculum of New Orleans schools is overdue. The United States has rates of sexually transmitted infections higher than any other developed country globally, and teen pregnancy rates are similarly high (Gonzalez, 2017). The most recent 2022 data collected by World Population Review found that the state of Louisiana has the third-highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation (WPR 2022). Similarly, in 2022 Louisiana was ranked third for chlamydia and fifth for rates of gonorrhea (WPR 2022). Sex education, as opposed to abstinence-only programs, are an effective way of combatting these trends. The statistics in Louisiana indicate a need to implement sex-positive reproductive health curriculums.
Louisiana is a highly religious state, with a majority Republican-affiliated population. These demographics are divisive factors in the health curriculum taught in schools and make it difficult for any sex-positive legislation to get passed. Politicians, alongside parents, object to the teaching of comprehensive sex education for many reasons. Much of the opposing arguments stem from the belief that learning about sex will trigger young people to partake in sexual behavior earlier than they otherwise would. However, this belief is misinformed. Countless studies have proved that “programmes that promote abstinence as the only option are ineffective in delaying sexual initiation” and leave young people without the necessary information and knowledge about sexual behavior and relationships as they transition from childhood to adulthood (UNESCO 2018).
The state of Louisiana does not have a statewide mandate regarding sex education. Instead, Louisiana calls upon local school districts to determine what they teach regarding reproductive health. Unfortunately, the New Orleans Parish Board, which manages most of the schools in the Orleans Parish, supports abstinence-only sex education. As a result, only 29% of schools in New Orleans teach sex education (Nobles 2018). In contrast, Oregon, California, and New Jersey require “educators to use medically accurate materials and include instruction related to healthy relationships or consent” (American Progress 2018). There is a clear correlation between lower teen pregnancy and STI rates and states that enact legislation requiring comprehensive sex education.
Sex education does more than inform students about how to practice safe sex. Impactful sex education also reviews the importance of a healthy relationship, the warning signs for an unhealthy one, and concepts such as consent. These are crucial details for young people to learn while growing up. It gives them the tools to set boundaries, identify harmful behavior, and prepare for the interactions and relationships they will inevitably face (Kollars 2019). The effects of sex education reach farther than the classrooms in which students are taught the information. Teen pregnancy and STI rates have health, economic, and social costs on the community (WPR 2022). Teaching relationship skills, consent, and medically-accurate information will work to lower the previously mentioned statistics and address the number of sexual assault and partner violence cases occurring throughout the US (Kollars 2019).
For more information on reproductive health education in Louisiana, refer to www.sexeducationcollaborative.org/states/louisiana.