SPECIAL REPORT: Could sex education lower teen birth rates in Louisiana?
SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - As of 2017, Louisiana was in the top five states for highest teen birth rates across the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Louisiana is also a state that does not require sex education in schools.
“I remember having the whole sex talk with my mother more than I remember any sex education," said Samantha Smiley Warner, who was a mom at 17 years old.
For every 1,000 girls in Louisiana from 15 to 19 years old, there are 29 who give birth to a child— that’s according to the CDC.
Warner, now 24 years old, had her daughter when she was just 17 years old.
“Was she planned? No. But she wasn’t prevented," Warner said.
Some, like Dr. Uzma Porche, believe comprehensive sex education courses may prevent these unplanned pregnancies.
“When the American Academy of Pediatrics is asking every pediatrician and every gynecologist to at least just have a forty-second conversation with every patient, I think that it should also be available in schools, because there is data that shows that it decreases these rates of STIs, HIV, unwanted sexual encounters and pregnancies as well," Porche said.
However, Warner doesn’t believe sex education courses will reduce teen pregnancies.
“It’s not a secret. You learn that when you’re in elementary, middle school or whatever. So, you know what’s going on. When you go to have sex, you know what’s going on and what could possibly happen. You hope it doesn’t, but you know what could possibly take place: pregnancy,” Warner said.
She admits her formal education at Calcasieu Parish schools was limited, but doesn’t think that changed anything for her.
Louisiana is a state where sex education is taught in some schools but isn’t required. There is no set statewide curriculum school districts must follow; just restrictions and regulations.
Some of those including:
- Emphasize abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage as the expected standard for all school-age children.
- Emphasize that each student has the power to control personal behavior.
- Any student can be excused from receiving instruction in “sex education” at the option and discretion of his parent or guardian.
It’s up to each school district to determine how that curriculum is laid out. 7News met with each of the school districts in the five-parish area to break down their sex education curriculum.
In Allen Parish, Supervisor Kent Reed explained the blanket curriculum students receive in their district.
“It’s covered in our health course. All students in Allen Parish will take health education. It’s a half-credit course. Some of our students take it in middle school, other students choose to wait and take it in high school. Throughout that course, there is a course outline and there are standards within that course outline that cover different parts of sex education," Reed said.
He pointed to the course outline which includes:
- Justifying abstinence as the safest, most effective way to prevent STDs, STIs and pregnancy.
- Summarizing the importance of setting personal limits to avoid risky behavior.
- Identifying infectious diseases, how they’re transmitted and prevention and control.
Tammy Crain, the Instructional Supervisor of Science for Beauregard Parish, says their sex education is very age specific.
It’s first introduced in seveth grade.
“Our seventh grade curriculum includes menstrual and puberty changes, because that’s something those students are going to be facing at that age," Crain said.
It’s introduced again in ninth grade biology.
“It covers, naturally, the male and female human anatomy system. We spend a lot of time on STDs," Crain said.
Overall, Beauregard Parish emphasizes and encourages abstinence to all of its students.
“I’m just talking to you now as an ex-science teacher, I’m going to tell you that, our students really gain a lot of knowledge. They usually feel really comfortable with their science teachers and they get questions answered that they may not get answered at home," Crain said. "My philosophy always was I would rather give a student a correct, scientific answer than them hear the wrong answer out on the street.”
In Cameron Parish, Susan Dupont, district school health administrator and previous health unit supervisor, said she believes the school district’s sex education curriculum has been beneficial.
“The students are really interested in learning about it. So, I think it has helped us with our rates over the years and we do believe it has helped with the teen pregnancy rates also," Dupont said.
Dupont said students are taught during their health class in 8th grade , when the school’s registered nurse visits to talk in-depth about STDs.
“It entails talking about the basics. How to get pregnant... a little bit about development. Goes into sexually transmitted diseases," Dupont said.
Cameron Parish also emphasizes the importance of abstinence, and if students have more questions, they’re advised to reach out to their doctor.
At some Calcasieu Parish middle schools, sex education is taught in health class. However, most students in the district don’t take that class until their sophomore year of high school.
Calcasieu Parish does not have a set curriculum for sex education.
“I would not necessarily say that we do the best job in educating them, we do definitely what’s required of us by the state," Robert Pete, director of high schools for the Calcasieu Parish school board, said.
That health class only covers STDs, and promotes abstinence to prevent them.
When asked whether or not pregnancy prevention is taught in Calcasieu schools, Pete said, "No. Not in that regard. We do have a mandate from the state to introduce the Safe Haven law. The Safe Haven law, of course; it has nothing to do with the contraceptive part. It’s what happens after the child is born and those things that can occur with the infant. So, we are obligated to cover that.”
Warner took that class in middle school — she doesn’t remember learning much about sex — but said even if she did it, wouldn’t have prevented anything.
“Sex education would not help, necessarily. It’s not about whether or not kids know. It’s about whether or not they want to do it. I mean, at that age, nothing is going to stop them. Nothing!" Warner said.
The CDC reports research shows teens who talk openly with their parents about sex, relationships, birth control and pregnancy:
- Have sex at a later age
- Practice safe sex
- Have better relationships with their partners
The CDC suggests going to the Office of Adolescent Health for tips on how to talk to your teen about sexual health. The centers also recommends teens to go to Planned Parenthood for advice on how to talk with their parents about sex.
Porche admits it may not be an easy conversation but says it’s definitely one worth having.
“It goes both ways. If you feel like you’re comfortable speaking, your child is comfortable speaking to you about that information, that’s great. If not, it might be better to get the child that information through a different avenue or different source. It’s just important that conversation is had," Porche said.
After multiple attempts to interview a representative from Jeff Davis Parish schools, Superintendent Kirk Credeur declined to comment on the matter.
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