OUR OPINION: Sex education need is a matter of reality

Mississippi State University’s Social Science Research Center provides valuable and perhaps surprising information about how much a majority of Mississippi’s parents want their children taught in sex-related education classes in public schools, and by age appropriateness.

A majority of school districts in Northeast Mississippi have chosen an abstinence-only curriculum, which will work, if practiced. Continuing statistics about births to single women, whose children’s fathers usually are single males, suggests the plea for abstinence has gone unheeded.

Reliable statistics also show Mississippi teenagers are more sexually active than the nation as whole, many at a disturbingly young age.

MSU’s survey was commissioned after the Legislature passed a law requiring school districts to adopt a policy on sex education, whether abstinence-only or abstinence-plus.

Only four districts in Northeast Mississippi use abstinence-plus.

In 15 categories of support for teaching specific points in sex education, a majority of parents surveyed voiced approval.

Sex education is not a course for advocacy of adolescent sexual activity. The point is scientifically and technically correct information about human reproduction, the risks and consequences of becoming sexually active, choosing abstinence and, in the face of sexual activity, birth control information, which is not approval of individual actions but an acknowledgment of observable, quantifiable facts.

The measure of consequences for which someone must bear responsibility is alarming:

• More than 10,500 girls from under 15 to age 19 had babies in Mississippi in 2011.

• Mississippi’s teenage birth rate in 2011 was 50.2 births for every 1,000 teens, the second highest rate in the nation.

• Had the birth rate to the age cohort not been declining for 20 years the rate would have been higher.

• Of all births to females under 20 years of age, the percent outside of marriage in 2011 in Mississippi was 90 percent to unmarried women or girls.

• 58 percent of all Mississippi high school students have had sexual intercourse.

• The percent of low birthweight babies among females under 20 years of age is 13.5 percent in Mississippi, compared to 9.6 percent nationwide.

The final statistic cited has broad consequences because it is about the good health of the babies. Low birthweight has a whole category of risk factors. If the goal is to prevent low-birthweight babies then do what’s most effective across a range of situations to prevent the pregnancy.

The open-minded discussion of sex education in public schools should continue, realizing that not every method will work with every child.