South Carolina lawmakers are advancing a measure to update the state’s 26-year-old sex ed law, which advocates say is putting too much emphasis on abstinence at the expense of teaching kids about safe sex. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. B.R. Skelton, told the Associated Press that he hopes expanding comprehensive sex ed “decreases teen pregnancies a little bit and decreases STDs a little bit.”
South Carolina, which is ranked a lowly 42nd in the nation in overall sexual health, has one one the country’s highest teen pregnancy rates. The state’s current sex ed requirement, the Comprehensive Health Education Act, was enacted back in 1998. That law requires school districts to teach 750 minutes of sex education between 9th and 12th grade — but allows them to adopt abstinence-only curricula that doesn’t discuss medically accurate information about condoms and birth control.
And last year, an outside report found that most of the state’s schools aren’t actually following through on the Comprehensive Health Education Act’s requirements. Researchers found that many public schools’ health courses weren’t meeting the 750 minute benchmark, didn’t adhere to standards about scientific accuracy, and included little to no instruction about resources to prevent pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. That’s partly what spurred Skelton to offer new legislation in this area.
“First of all, not all of the school districts are complying with the requirements to provide the number of hours of health education. Secondly, I think they’re getting some medically inaccurate results,” he told the Charleston City Paper. So the GOP lawmaker’s bill would set stricter standards for what’s considered to be a medically accurate curriculum, as well as require districts to provide annual compliance reports to the Department of Education to ensure they’re in line with the law.
But Skelton is in the minority, both in his own party and when it comes to state legislatures as a whole. States have been sluggish to update their comprehensive sex ed laws, and there’s currently a patchwork of sexual health requirements across the country that aren’t effectively reaching kids before they start having sex. Unsurprisingly, the areas where kids aren’t required to learn accurate information about birth control are the same places where the unintended teen pregnancy rates remain stubbornly high. Nonetheless, conservative lawmakers across the country continue to attempt to combat teen pregnancy with abstinence-only messages that don’t mention contraception.
Skelton’s bill already has some opponents, like Republican Rep. Wendy Nanney, who claim that teaching kids about birth control will convince them to start having sex earlier. But there’s already compelling evidence within the state’s borders to disprove that assertion. Denmark, South Carolina — a rural town that used to have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country — has effectively reduced that rate by two thirds by teaching kids about sexual boundaries, making condoms widely available, and encouraging more dialogue about safe sex between adults and kids.