A newly released Auburn University study found that the Southern states have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections and teen pregnancy in the country. The study, titled "Sexual Health of Young People in the U.S. South: Challenges and Opportunities," was compiled by the university's Center for Demographic Research and covered 19 U.S. states. The authors of the report point to the high cost borne by the states for the STIs and teen pregnancies, estimating the total price tag at nearly $2.3 billion just in 2008.
The report offers a solution, said principal investigator Yanyi Djamba, by encouraging parents, educators, policymakers and young people to demand improved access to quality sex education.
"We knew that abstinence-only is not really working as much as we would like," said Djamba, director of the AUM Center for Demographic Research. "It's not a bad thing, it is just not working."
One of the surprising findings from the study was that almost 90% of parents surveyed expressed no opposition to the teaching of age-appropriate comprehensive sex education in schools. To accommodate this preference, in the past year, 10 of the 19 states covered in the study have chosen to take advantage of a new federal program that offers grants to fund state efforts aimed at reducing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancies in students.
In 2010, the federal government established new grant programs for sexual health and teen pregnancy prevention. Such programs include details about abstinence but also teach about healthy relationships, contraception and sexually transmitted infections.
Sexual education in schools has been in the news lately due to the efforts by the Utah Legislature to further restrict the material covered in sex education classes in the state. Utah is considered one of the most conservative states in the country when it comes to sex-ed policy, teaching a curriculum that is usually described as "abstinence-based." The current bill proposed outlawing the sexual education programs called "abstinence-plus."
The bill, which also sought to bar instruction on homosexuality or other aspects of human sexuality other than the teaching of abstinence, would have been the first of its kind in the nation if it had become law.
Last week, however, Utah Governor Gary Herbert vetoed the bill, saying that, as a both a parent and a grandparent, he considered sex education in schools to be "an important component" in promotion of sexual health. He added that accurate and comprehensive information on sex would not interfere with the moral education being offered to children at home.