Birth Control on the High School Curriculum

Many states continue to emphasize abstinence over contraception, sometimes presenting abstinence as the only option. But on May 22nd, in a departure from current policy, in which abstinence is the only required curriculum for schools with sex ed classes. The Illinois Senate approved a measure requiring sex ed classes in state public schools to provide information about birth control to students. Governor Pat Quinn plans to sign it into law, according to a spokeswoman.

Previously, Illinois schools had three options when it came to sex ed: abstinence-only classes, comprehensive classes covering both abstinence and safe sex, or no sex ed classes at all.  Schools will now have to either teach the comprehensive sex ed courses or avoid sex ed altogether.

Proponents argue that abstinence-only education is not effective and that students should be taught about other methods of birth control and protection against sexually transmitted diseases. Opponents contend that abstinence-only education should remain the norm in schools, saying parents should decide how to educate their kids about sex.

By contrast in North Dakota, legislators are moving to block grant money to provide sex ed classes for homeless teenagers. While the first thought often goes to teen pregnancy, STD's are a major issue too.

Southern states report the highest percentage of students having had sexual intercourse prior to age 13; the highest percentage of students who have had intercourse with four or more partners; and the highest incidence of sexual activity without barriers or contraception.  All that translates, not surprisingly, into higher rates of STD infection.

The Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) grouping of states consistently boasting the highest rates of STDs, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis, are also those with largely abstinence-only programs. This is not a coincidence: Young people who receive only abstinence-only education tend to engage in riskier sexual health behaviors once becoming sexually active.

A 2012 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that more knowledge about sexual health and contraceptives was directly correlated to a decrease in adolescent and young adult risky sexual behaviors, like having sex without barriers or contraceptives, and increased numbers of sexual partners. The study showed that teens who received comprehensive sex ed not only had lower rates of pregnancy but waited longer to have sex—effectively achieving what abstinence-only educational programs have been trying to encourage for decades: waiting to have sex.

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