HIV Infection Tends To Be Concentrated Where Sex Education Is Lacking

HIV_Rates_MapResearchers from the CDC are, for the first time, able to map the incidence of HIV around the country, and have discovered a disturbing trend. Among the states with the highest rates of new HIV diagnoses were nearly all of the states in the deep south, many of which don’t require school districts to teach “medically accurate” sex education, and some of which don’t require any sex education at all.

The highest rates weren’t limited to the south, though the concentration there is significant. Illinois, for instance, also ranks high, but is an island among other Midwestern states. The City of Chicago’s board of education just recently voted to expand the city’s sex education program in response to the alarming STD infection rate seen there. According to Chicago, the amount of sex ed that children currently receive is “limited to a few minutes over a few grade levels.” The new program will seek to start discussing family life as early as kindergarten, and continue that through the fourth grade. Comprehensive sexual health education will begin in fifth grade and continue through the end of high school.

Cook County, Ill., ranks first in the country when it comes to infections of gonorrhea and syphilis in teens, and second when it comes to chlamydia. Furthermore, the county’s number of HIV cases among young people has increased by 43% since 2000. Chicago Public Schools intends to make sure that parents, who are integral parts of their children’s education, will be kept in the loop as to what’s being taught, and when. Parents will be allowed to opt out of the curriculum should they so choose, per state law.

Chicago may be on the right track, especially given that Illinois is among the states with the highest rates of HIV infection and among the states that do not require sex education—though HIV education is required—and any courses that do get taught are not required by law to be medically accurate.

Most states mandate either sex education or HIV education in schools, however, there are some states that require very little in the way of either, and some don’t require anything. For instance, Texas, one of the states with a higher rate of HIV infection, only requires that any sex ed that is taught be age appropriate, that parents receive notice, and that they have the ability to opt out of having their children in such classes. Texas does not mandate either sex ed or HIV ed, or that anything that is taught be medically accurate.

Florida, another state in the highest range, only requires that anything taught be age appropriate and that parents have the ability to keep their children out of sex ed classes. Furthermore, Florida does not require that any sex ed provided cover contraception, but it must discuss the importance of sex within marriage only and the negative outcomes of teen sex. HIV education is not required to cover the use of condoms, but must stress abstinence.

Louisiana, too, does not have any law requiring sex ed or HIV ed, and classes do not have to be medically accurate, though it does have a law prohibiting teachers who do teach sex ed to promote religion with their teachings. Any classes taught do not have to discuss contraception but they must discuss the importance of having sex only within the context of marriage. They do not have to talk about the negative outcomes of teen sex, nor do they have to talk about condom use to prevent HIV. HIV education is only required to stress abstinence.

To see what each state mandates in terms of sex ed and HIV ed, click here.

In 2011, researchers at the University of Georgia conducted a study that added to the pile of evidence showing that cherry-picked education is less effective, and abstinence-only education doesn’t work nearly as well as is touted by some. The UGA study has been billed as the first study with large-scale findings demonstrating that the type of education children receive about sex, STDs and contraception has a significant effect on their behavior. States that had heavy emphasis on abstinence, but were light on other aspects of sex, tended to have a higher rate of teen pregnancy than states that had more comprehensive education. While correlation and causation are two different things, the findings of the study are very important for those states with high rates of STDs.

The study also showed that states with the lowest rates of teen pregnancy had comprehensive sex and HIV education, and covered abstinence alongside everything else, not in lieu of everything else. This study, coupled with the findings from the CDC, make the case against both abstinence-only education and a lack of sex education altogether much stronger.