The Daily Gamecock

Column: Comprehensive sex ed key in preventing teen pregnancy

Denmark, SC example shows teaching all options most effective

Growing up in a suburb of New York City, I was privileged to live in a community that was open about sex education. I had my first sex ed class in eighth grade — we had a contest once to name the most STDs — and I cannot remember ever seeing one pregnant girl in my high school.

We had what is commonly referred to as “comprehensive sex ed,” which covered all methods of birth control, including abstinence and extensive, sometimes graphic lessons on the consequences of sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, we all cringed while watching our health teachers properly outfit a banana with a condom, but we learned what to do and what our options were in order to keep our bodies healthy.

Teen pregnancy in the U.S. has declined by nearly 50 percent since the 1990s, but South Carolina’s teen birth rate was 36.6 births per 1,000 teen girls in 2012, clocking in at eighth nationally.

In South Carolina, three out of four school districts fail to comply with the state’s sex education law. The Comprehensive Health Education Act, passed in 1988 by the S.C. General Assembly, requires schools to “stress the importance of abstaining from sexual activity until marriage,” but also mandates that teachers “explain methods of contraception and the risks and benefits of each method.”

But there’s “no way to verify” whether students are getting this state-mandated education, according to Emma Davidson, who works with the New Morning Foundation, a non-partisan group working to decrease unintended pregnancy among young people in South Carolina.

But one town in South Carolina is doing things right. Michelle Nimmons, a school administrator in Denmark, S.C., has spent the last 30 years working to get her town’s teen pregnancy rate down from one of the state’s highest to one of its lowest. Her strategy includes educating kids in middle and high school about all contraceptive options while emphasizing that “abstinence is the best option,” according to an interview with National Public Radio.

Nimmons and Denmark teachers engage girls and boys in conversations about their plans for situations in which they feel pressured to have sex or eschew contraceptives. They rely on adults in the community to provide mentorship and a safe space to talk about sex when parents shy away from the subject.

Comprehensive sex education works, whether it’s in suburban New York or rural South Carolina. Nimmons’ work is clear evidence of that, and her strategy should be adopted in more schools statewide. There’s no reason not to make teenagers aware of all their options. There’s no excuse not to be practicing the sex education curriculum the state has mandated, and there’s no excuse not to be actively combating this state’s teen pregnancy problem.


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