During a Women’s History Month program at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders espoused the benefits of comprehensive sex education for students in order to prevent unplanned pregnancy. Elders clarified, “If you can’t control your reproduction, you can’t control your life. If you don’t educate young people about their sexuality and how to protect themselves, you are setting yourself up to repeat the same thing.” Elders served as Surgeon General during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
Elders’ remarks came approximately a week after Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour signed a bill mandating that public school districts teach either abstinence-only or abstinence-plus sex education by June 30, 2012. In February 2010, the Mississippi state House passed a bill to allow “abstinence-plus” sex education to be offered in the state. The “abstinence-plus” curriculum focuses primarily on abstinence, but also includes information about contraceptives and condoms. The proposed legislation prohibits any schools from demonstrating proper condom use and requires boys and girls to be separated into different classes by gender during sexual education classes. Parental permission will be required for students to attend “abstinence-plus” classes.
Teen birth rates and rates of gonorrhea and chlamydia in Mississippi are among the highest in the US. A Department of Education survey on teen pregnancy indicated that 91 of 121 Mississippi public school districts either did not have a sex education policy, or did not know if one existed.