Two students are advocating for more comprehensive sex education in Mississippi.
Public policy leadership majors Cody Austin and Sara Porcheddu have been members of the Mississippi Youth Council since August. They are traveling to the State Capitol in Jackson on Thursday to speak with state legislators and lobby for a bill that would authorize and direct local school boards to implement “personal responsibility” education into middle and high school curriculum. The Personal Responsibility Education Program is a federal effort to reduce teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases through education.
The Mississippi Youth Council, organized and funded by Mississippi First, is supporting a sex education bill through their petition encouraging reform in the state’s sex education policies.
The Mississippi Youth Council’s petition calls for legislation focused on evidence-based, medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education in Mississippi public schools. The petition began circulating in January 2016 and has gained 468 signatures.
“Mississippi Youth Council just works on sex education policies we believe are important,” Austin said. “We’re not Republican/Democrat or conservative/progressive because we think both conservatives and progressives can agree on access to evidence-based, medically-accurate and age-appropriate sex education.”
The bill would require public schools to enroll students in a sex education course once in middle school and once in high school, designating separate curriculums for each level.
This type of education teaches decision-making skills, accurate information on condoms and contraceptives and the benefits of delaying sexual activity, according to the council’s petition, while also focusing on information about dating violence and healthy relationships.
Mississippi has one of the highest sexually transmitted infection and teen pregnancy rates in the United States, according to statistics on the Mississippi First website.
“I don’t think a lot of people know these things, and if they have exposure to this information, then I think it will stick,” Austin said. “If the information is taught well, I think it will certainly help our current situation.”
The current state law on sex education requires that schools adopt education programs that are either “abstinence-only” or “abstinence-plus.”
These programs must be taught to students before high school graduation.
The difference between abstinence-only and abstinence-plus is the material discussed and presented. For both courses, discussions of abortion and physical contraceptive demonstrations are forbidden. However, in the abstinence-plus program, verbal demonstration of contraceptives is allowed. Abstinence-only programs strictly discuss the benefits of practicing abstinence and the effects of sexually transmitted diseases.
The new bill, SB 2413, will get rid of “abstinence-only” and “abstinence-plus” labeled programs and only require schools to adopt “personal responsibility” education programs.
Porcheddu said she hopes to remove the social stigma around sex by supporting this bill.
“They’ll do things like chew a piece of gum and say ‘This gum is already chewed, would you want to chew it?’” Porcheddu said. “It’s negative in a way that it’s shaming for people, especially the students that are sitting there that may have already had sex, it can be really damaging for kids that are still developing.”
Freshman hospitality management major Camille Griffin never received sex education at her public middle or high school in Madison.
Griffin said she and her peers could have benefitted from the information taught in a sex education course, including proper condom application demonstrations.
“I think if you’re in a place that has a high statistic for STIs or pregnancies such as Mississippi, then you should have the physical demonstrations as a requirement, no matter how awkward,” Griffin said.
Griffin also said talking about the possible consequences of having sex should be a main topic of discussion within any sexual education course.
– Isabella Caruso