Sexual Health Roundup: Mississippi Sex-Ed Deadline Looms and Survey Finds LGBT Teens Are Less Happy


Mississippi Sex Education Deadline Looms

School districts in Mississippi have a decision to make by the end of this month. A law passed in 2011 mandated that all districts teach sexuality education but allowed them to decide whether they were going to take a strict abstinence-only approach (which discusses contraception only in terms of failure rates) or a broader-based abstinence-plus approach (which addresses additional topics such as HIV and STD prevention). According to the department of education, thus far fewer than one fourth of the state’s 152 school districts have registered their decision. Of those that have, most have chosen the abstinence-only approach.

The two approaches, however, don’t vary that much as all classes start with certain tenets of abstinence-only programs such as teaching young people:

  • “that abstinence from sexual activity before marriage, and fidelity within marriage, is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and related health problems; and
  • that a mutually faithful monogamous marriage is the only appropriate setting for sexual intercourse.”

Abstinence-plus programs may discuss broader sexual health topics, such as “the nature, causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases,” and other aspects of STD/HIV-prevention education.

Regardless of which approach a school districts takes, students cannot be taught that “abortion can be used to prevent the birth of a baby;” all classes must be separated by sex; and students must present a signed permission slip from their parents before they can attend. This referred to as an “opt-in” policy and is in place in very few states.

The superintendent of one district that has already chosen the abstinence-plus approach, argued:

“Abstinence-only is what they preach from the pulpit and that the only way to deal with sex education is no sex. The other approach of abstinence-plus is where you encourage abstinence, but you are more real with the information.”

Others who are advocating for this approach have pointed out that Mississippi has the highest teen birth rates in the country.

A number of school districts are holding school board meetings and public forums to discuss this issue this week.  

National Survey Find GLBT Teens Less Happy

I can’t imagine being a teenager again and I’m not looking forward to my daughters’ teen years—all that angst, self-doubt, and uncertainty is a lot to take and the pressure to “fit in” is overwhelming. So it doesn’t surprise me that despite the progress we’ve made on gay rights in recent years, gay and lesbian teenagers are having an even harder time than their heterosexual peers. The survey, conducted by the Human Rights Campaign included more than 10,000 teens ages 13 to 17 who identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT), as well as 500 teens who identified as heterosexual and made up the “straight” comparison group. 

The survey found that 92 percent of LGBT teens had heard negative things about being LGBT, fewer than half of LGBT teens believed that their community is supportive of them, and 63 percent believed that they would have to move to another town or another part of the country to find acceptance. 

It also found that about half of all LGBT teens reported being verbally harassed at school compared to a quarter of their straight peers. In addition, 17 percent of LGBT teens reported being shoved, kicked or otherwise assaulted at their schools compared to 10 percent of straight teens. LGBT teens were also twice as likely to have experimented with alcohol or drugs (52 percent compared to 22 percent) than straight teens. And ultimately, just four in 10 LGBT teens reported being happy, compared with nearly seven in 10 of their straight peers.

Given the number of suicides we have seen among gay and lesbian young people in recent years, these finding are very disturbing. As HRC explains: “The deck is stacked against young people growing up lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender in America. Official government discrimination or indifference along with social ostracism leaves many teens disaffected and disconnected in their own homes and neighborhoods.” The good news, though, is that many LGBT teens can see past these years to a brighter future — three quarters of them believe that it will get better. 

New Condom Company Will Donate One Condom for Every Condom Sold

Fast Company recently profiled a new condom company that was created to sell condoms here and donate them in the areas of the world where HIV rates are the highest and condoms are often not available. L. describes itself a “condom company with a cause; to support women globally by focusing on their sexual empowerment.” The company is the brainchild of Talia Frenkel, a photojournalist who has worked with the American Red Cross in many developing countries.  She became frustrated when she saw how often condoms were simply not available in areas with high HIV prevalence rates: “HIV is a preventable disease, and I believe that access to condoms is a basic human right.”

Frenkel began the L. company by developing and manufacturing a new condom which is made in Malaysia. According to the company the latex is purified to cut down on the smell and the lubricants that are used on the condoms are free of glycerin and parabens. All of the packaging is recyclable.

L. company is partnering with grassroots non-profits around the world to ensure that for every condom that is purchased from the company another will be donated. Frenkel explains:

“We’re starting with the high-impact areas where condoms are needed immediately, because there’s a high HIV rate and little or no access to condoms. In many places, women sell sex for less than the price of a condom. So there we’re just distributing them freely, with peer-to-peer education.”

In other the places the company will make condoms available for women to sell at affordable rates in order to further empower women. 

The condoms are now available for pre-orders on-line and the company hopes to begin shipping over the summer

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Follow Martha Kempner on twitter: @MarthaKempner