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SC's Sex Ed Problem: Parents Forum Recap

Posted by Ryan Morgan on February 08, 2013 at 12:00 PM

In response to this sex ed problem, Tell Them– a non-partisan grassroots e-advocacy program of the New Morning Foundation– is holding a series of forums around the state to address it.

By: Amy Lazenby

Amy is a freelance writer and Editor of the website www.polistew.com. Her work focuses on national and southern politics. She has a particular interest in politics and law as they relate to women's issues and reproductive rights and has written extensively on those topics. A married mother of three, Amy is a vocal advocate for age-appropriate reproductive health education and evidenced-based solutions to the issues of birth control, disease prevention, and access to care.

According to a new report, “A Sterling Opportunity: 25 Years After the Comprehensive Health Education Act” by the New Morning Foundation, a Columbia, SC-based health-and-sex education advocacy group, three out of four SC school districts fail to comply with a state law outlining how they should teach sex education.

In response to this sex ed problem, Tell Them– a non-partisan grassroots e-advocacy program of the New Morning Foundation– is holding a series of forums around the state to address it.

The first event, a Parents Forum, was held Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Greenville Technical College in Greenville, SC, and was moderated Jacquelyn Clement, business and political consultant at EYC Consulting Firm and community activist.

Panelists included:

Dr. Melisa Holmes, Co-founder Girlology and Guyology
Mandi Black, Founder and Executive Director of Little Steps
David Mitchell, President of Talent Management Solutions
Traci Fant, CEO of Think2xTwice.org, Activist, Mother

This interactive forum allowed participants to ask questions at the event or watch the live stream on TellThemSC's website and submit questions via Twitter to @TellThemSC by using the hashtag #scsexedprob.

The point of the series is to bring together experts from local communities to discuss an issue that has far-reaching effects on our state - reproductive health education, which teaches young people to make smart, healthy decisions. As the report from the New Morning Foundation shows, young people are not getting the important, medically accurate information they need, teachers are not trained to teach this information in South Carolina's schools, and school districts are not held accountable for complying with state law regarding sex education.

The fact that South Carolina's children are lagging behind in receiving this information is evident in the high rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in our state. SC is ranked 12th highest in the nation in the rate of teen pregnancies and 3rd highest in the nation in gonorrhea and syphilis cases in teens. SC spends nearly $200 million per year on the repercussions of teen pregnancy, and it would make better financial sense to invest money up front in a comprehensive sex education program than to deal with the consequences of not doing so later.

Clearly, not talking about sex isn't working. By not ensuring that medically accurate information reaches our young people, we are helping to ensure that they will engage in potentially dangerous behavior due to a lack of knowledge about reproductive health.

Healthy families are those in which parents and children talk openly and honestly about important life issues, including sex, but there are many children who do not receive adequate or accurate reproductive health information at home. These young people are at greatest risk for unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. Our schools must play a role in disseminating the information our children need to make healthy decisions regarding their sexuality.

This first forum looked at the issue from parents' perspective. The panelists at the event answered questions about comprehensive reproductive health education that offers students information about disease and pregnancy prevention, including abstinence, as both parents and professionals.

The panelists were asked why reproductive health education should be a priority when students were already overloaded with homework and course requirements.

Dr. Holmes responded that sex ed must be a priority because young people, who have social lives that lead to romantic relationships, just aren't getting the information they need to make healthy decisions within those relationships. Ignoring sex and sexuality leaves young people without critical information they need for their health and their relationships, now and in the future, Holmes said.

Traci Fant made the crucial point that many young people become sexually active before they are even introduced to sex education, and they may live in a household where parents aren't sure when to talk to their children about sex. Fant also stressed that sex education is life skills education.

For some perspective, Jacquelyn Clement reminded the audience that 20% of middle school children are already sexually active.

Mandi Black, whose organization works with teen parents, said that without the life skills learned in comprehensive reproductive education, the trajectory of a young person's life can change drastically - he or she may not end up graduating from high school due to an unintended pregnancy.

David Mitchell, a proponent of age-appropriate sex education beginning no later than middle school, discussed the socialization process that young people go through in school. He said that students must have accurate information about sex so that they will know what the repercussions of sexual behavior are when all of their friends are engaging in sexual behavior and perhaps pressuring them to do so as well. He also brought up the fact that young people today are interacting and having sexual discussions over various types of social media, and they need to have factual information when they are involved in those conversations.

Dr. Holmes stressed the need to start the discussion even earlier. Teaching young children the proper names for their anatomy and the difference between appropriate and inappropriate touch is also a form of sex education. "If we can't start these conversations when they're young," Holmes said, "the conversations become more difficult as they age. But if you start when they're young, it is a natural flow of dialogue." Holmes believes that comprehensive sex education should start in schools in kindergarten and before that at home.

Black said that the more parents talk about sexuality with their children, the less uncomfortable it will be for them and their children to have an open dialogue about sexuality and relationships. She reminded the audience that not all families are having these conversations, however, and that is where schools can play a role in disseminating factual information to young people about healthy sexuality. The goal of comprehensive reproductive health education is for all young people to be properly informed, and for the information that they receive to be consistent, Black said.

Statistics show frank talk about reproduction, personal responsibility, pregnancy prevention and family planning is the best way to reduce unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates. But without comprehensive reproductive health education in our schools, young people in South Carolina simply will not be exposed to the medically accurate sexual health information they need to lower the rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases in our state. South Carolina has a sex ed problem, and it is time to address it.

The next event, a youth forum, is scheduled for Feb. 12 at 6:00pm at Clemson University's Tillman Hall. You may view the Facebook event page for this forum and RSVP here. Please join us for a panel discussion about the state of SC’s Sex Education System and the problems it faces.

You can join the conversation online at Tell Them and watch the panel live. Follow us on Twitter at @TellThemSC and send the panel questions by using #scsexedprob.


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