The history of mandatory sex education in Mississippi begins in 2011, with the passage of House Bill 999 (HB999). HB999 marked the first time Mississippi would require its public schools to integrate sex education in the curriculum, beginning with the 2012-2013 school year (1,2).
Not just any sex ed program was permitted: abstinence-only needed to “remain the standard,” and schools could adopt an abstinence-only or “abstinence-plus” program or use the sex ed curriculum developed by the Mississippi Department of Human Services and Mississippi Department of Health (2).
HB999 defined the term “abstinence-only education” as “teach[ing] the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity, and the likely negative psychological and physical effects of not abstaining” (2). This teaching philosophy also stresses the negative consequences of unplanned, out-of-wedlock pregnancy (including “the inappropriateness of the social and economic burden placed on others); emphasizes the idea that abstinence-until-marriage- and monogamy within marriage- is the “only certain way” to prevent unplanned pregnancy and STDs; and asserts that sex within marriage is the only type of acceptable sex (2). Condoms and other contraceptive devices can be discussed, but demonstrations of how to use condoms or other contraceptives is strictly forbidden (2). Mississippi’s approach to sex ed is decidedly LGBTQ+ unfriendly. Although same-sex activity is legal in all 50 states (see 2003 Supreme Court decision Lawrence vs. Texas), sodomy laws are still on the books as of 2019 in 16 states, including Mississippi, South Carolina, Massachusetts, Texas, Michigan, Florida, and Minnesota. Mississippi’s abstinence-only law requires that sex ed classes teach students “current state law…related to homosexuality” (2,3). Although not enforceable under Lawrence v. Texas, the current Mississippi sodomy law threatens a prison sentence of “not more than ten years” for those who partake in “unnatural intercourse” (3)
What’s the difference between “abstinence-only” and “abstinence-plus”? According to Mississippi law, abstinence-plus education must place the same emphasis on abstinence that an abstinence-only sex ed course does, the only difference being that an abstinence-plus setting “may discuss other contraceptives, the nature, causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases, or the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, along with a factual presentation of the risks and failure rates” (4).
Mississippi’s rules regarding sex ed don’t stop there. HB 999 (which became known as 37-13-171—37-13-175 once adapted into the Mississippi Code) also stipulated that each school district’s sex ed curriculum had to be approved by the state’s Department of Education and put protocols in place to ensure that each district’s sex-ed program would be taught “in a manner that is age, grade and developmentally appropriate” (4).
Other restrictions included:
- Boys and girls must be separated during sex-ed classes
- Abortion cannot be discussed as a means of birth control
- Parents must receive a written notice at least one week before students start sex-ed and parents must give written permission for their child to participate (ergo, it’s an “opt-in” program). (4)
- And, to reiterate: no condom or contraceptive demonstrations of any kind (4).
Why was 2011 year that Mississippi decided to incorporate mandatory (albeit abstinence-focused) sex education into public schools?
To answer that, we might consider Mississippi’s teen pregnancy rates in 2011. In 2011, Mississippi had the second-highest teen pregnancy rate in the country, with 70 pregnancies per 1,000 women* ages 15-19 (New Mexico was #1, with 72 pregnancies per 1,000 women in the same age group) (5). In the same year, Mississippi had the nation’s highest teen birthrate, with 51 births per 1,000 women ages 15-19 (5).
Mississippi’s decision to integrate mandatory sex-ed into the curriculum might also have something to do with the state’s HIV/AIDs rates in the years preceding the introduction of HB 999. In 2011, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a 59-page report entitled “Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in Mississippi” that combined the state’s HIV/AIDs statistics with first-hand accounts of the intense stigma and lack of access to resources that Mississippians with HIV/AIDs face (7).
According to the report, Mississippi had 9,212 people living with HIV or AIDs in 2008 (7,8). The report also noted a 2011 statewide average of 313.8 HIV cases per 100,000 people (7). Hinds County, where state capital Jackson is located, had an average of 811.2 cases per 100,000. HRW’s report indicates HIV disproportionately affects Mississippi’s population of young black men who have sex with men (MSM), and that the state’s culturally-ingrained homophobia contributes to the problem.
1800s- pamphlets about venereal diseases, overall good hygiene, and the evils of prostitution and masturbation were widely distributed outside of schools.
1913- Chicago attempts to formally introduce sex-ed into their school systems. The Catholic Church helps shut it down. (26)
1914– The American Hygiene Association was founded to teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. They would later be involved in creating school curriculums.
1916– Planned Parenthood is founded in New York.
1919– A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau was released that suggested soldiers would have been better off if they had received sex instruction in school. (26)
1920s– resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools.
Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality. (26)
1930s– The U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers.
1964– The medical director at Planned Parenthood, Mary Calderone, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in part to challenge the American Social Hygiene Association.
1968– A pamphlet called “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” is widely distributed by Gordon Drake and James Hargis framing sex ed as a way to indoctrinate children into communism. Thus began the scary rhetoric that sex-ed was teaching students to be homosexuals and that teachers were having sex in front of students. (26)
1980s– The AIDS epidemic takes hold. Religious groups use this public health crisis to push their own agenda and convince school board members and legislative officials that abstinence-only sex education was the only way to keep kids “safe.”
1981– President Regan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (aka the “Chastity Law” –yikes!). This law allowed federal funding to go to abstinence-only programming. And abstinence-only sexuality education (AOSE) and abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) programming became the norm in the US.
2004: Study is published showing the harms of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and the importance of investing in comprehensive sexuality education. There are plenty more studies that have been published since reaffirming the same results. (It’s possible there were studies earlier than this, but this was the earliest one we could find. Know of an earlier one? Please get in touch!)
2018: Under the Trump administration, Abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) is rebranded to be Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) (1). More federal funding goes towards pushing these programs.
And now on to Mississippi…
Pre-2011: Sex ed is allowed in Mississippi public schools, but it’s not a requirement and parental consent is encouraged by the state board of education (9). According to Mississippi law, “[a]bstinence education shall be the state standard for any sex-related education taught in the public schools”
That said, even if a district chooses not to teach abstinence, law dictates that they “cannot choose to teach that abstinence is not beneficial” (9).
Just before the passage of HB999, here’s how sex-related health statistics in Mississippi stand:
- #2 in the country for rate of teen pregnancies #2 in the country for rate of teen births
- #2 in the country for rate of gonorrhea infections among all ages
- #2 in the country for rate of chlamydia infections among all ages
- #7 in the country for rate of HIV infections among all ages
- #7 in the country for rate of syphilis infections among all ages (11).
2011: House Bill 999 (HB999) passes, making sex ed mandatory in public schools for the first time in Mississippi history, starting with the 2012-13 school year. Curriculum has to be abstinence-based, but it “may discuss other contraceptives, the nature, causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases, or the prevention of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, along with a factual presentation of the risks and failure rates” (4).
Condom/contraceptive demonstrations and discussion of abortion as a means of ending a pregnancy are strictly off limits (4). The law comes with a five-year repealer, meaning it’s not effective anymore on July 1, 2016 (4).
2012: Mandatory sex ed law comes into effect. According to advocacy organization Mississippi First, “only 24.5% of school districts declared an intention to use an evidence-based curriculum as of July 1, 2012, when school districts were required to report the information to the Mississippi Department of Education” (12).
2015: Research conducted by the Mississippi Dept. of Health finds the following:
- “54% of Mississippi high school students say they have had sexual intercourse
- 39% of Mississippi high school students did not use a condom the last time they had sex.
- Mississippi had the highest rates of both chlamydia and gonorrhea in the nation in 2015. More than half the cases of both diseases were among adolescents and young adults 15-24 years old” (13).
2016: Mississippi extends passes Senate Bill 494, extending the sex-ed requirement bill passed in 2011 for another five years. SB 494 does not stipulate that abstinence-plus sex ed curriculums must be evidence based (14).
2017: Representative Alyce Clark (D-Jackson) introduces HB 288, which would radically revise the curricular standards for sex ed in Mississippi public schools, “remove the requirement that such program be abstinence-only or abstinence-based” and ensure that sex ed be “comprehensive in nature and provide medically accurate, complete, and developmentally appropriate information” (15). Bill dies in committee.
2019: HB1347 introduced, which “would have made school sex education opt-out instead of opt-in, mandated consent education, and required more frequent updates to the curriculum,” but bill dies in committee (16,17)
HB 999, the current sex ed law comes with a five-year repealer (2). In 2021, legislators will have to decide whether to reinstate the law (as it is currently written), change its wording, or strike mandatory sex ed from Mississippi Law altogther. Given the sex ed policy events of the recent past (see timeline entries for 2016-2019) and the fact that both Mississippi’s House and Senate have Republican majorities, it’s likely that HB 999 will be renewed for 2021 with no changes to wording.
What the kids are actually learning
So, what are Mississippi teens actually learning in sex ed class?
As we said before, all sex ed in Mississippi has to be abstinence-based, abstinence-plus, or use the state-developed curriculum. So, what are the kids actually learning? Let’s take a look at the state-created curriculum.
CHART: The state-sponsored curriculum is called C.H.A.R.T. It stands for “Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens.” The CHART Initiative was created through a partnership between Mississippi First (a nonpartisan advocacy group focused on education research and policy) and the Mississippi Department of Health (13,18). According to the Mississippi Dept. of Health, the goal of CHART is to “reduce teen pregnancy, improve teen sexual health and increase responsible decision-making” (13,18).
As we mentioned before, Mississippi school districts can choose whether to use the state-sponsored curriculum or their own curriculum (provided it’s abstinence-based or abstinence-plus). That said, school districts have an incentive for adopting CHART. Under the PREP Program (Personal Responsibility Education Program), schools can adopt CHART at no cost. What’s more, if districts adopt CHART, the state “will pay for districts to receive curricula, train relevant staff, and receive on-going technical assistance from the Mississippi State Department of Health’s Bureau of Community and School Health” (13). Why is the money question so important? Because the state did not provide additional funding for schools to carry out the sex-ed mandate put in place by HB 999 (13,18).
What does the CHART curriculum actually look like? And who teaches the class? Although HB 999 put no requirements in place as to the qualifications of sex-ed teachers, the CHART curriculum stipulates that its teachers have to be “licensed health educators, family and consumer science educators, or educators with a health education and/or science endorsement” (18).
As for what the curriculum looks like, for high schoolers, here’s a breakdown.
- “Class 1A: Introduction to Reducing the Risk: Pregnancy Prevention
- Class 1B: HIV Prevention
- Class 2: Abstinence: Not Having Sex
- Classes 3 & 4: Using Refusal Skills
- Class 5: Delay Tactics
- Class 6: Avoiding High-Risk Situations
- Classes 7 & 8: Getting and Using Protection
- Classes 9, 10 & 11: Skills Integration
- Class 12: Preventing HIV and other STDs
- Class 13: HIV Risk Behaviors
- Class 14: Implementing Protection from STD and Pregnancy
- Class 15: Sticking with Abstinence and Protection
- Class 16: Skills Integration” (21)
Abstinence-only: Of Mississippi’s 151 school districts, 75 (roughly half) use abstinence-only sex ed curriculums. What do those curriculums look like? Let’s take a look at the three most common: Choosing the Best, RISE to Your Dreams (authored by a Christian “romantic suspense” author) and WAIT Training (which stands for Why Am I Tempted? and has been described by health professionals as misogynistic and medically inaccurate) (22). WAIT is not on HHS list of evidence-based curricula (25).
More resources for ya...
The following organizations support evidence-based, medically accurate (not abstinence-based or abstinence-plus) reproductive healthcare education:
The following organizations support what they call “comprehensive” sex education (medically accurate, age-appropriate, “abstinence-plus”)
Written by: Lizzy Steiner
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) Kopsa, Andy. “Sex Ed Without Condoms? Welcome to Mississippi.” The Atlantic. Atlantic Media Company, March 11, 2013. https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/03/sex-ed-without-condoms-welcome-to-mississippi/273802/.
(2) “2018 Mississippi Code :: Title 37 – Education :: Chapter 13 – Curriculum; School Year and Attendance :: Sex and Abstinence Education :: § 37-13-171. Implementation of Abstinence-Only or Abstinence-plus Education; State Department of Education Approval of Curriculum for Sex-Related Education Required; Components of Abstinence-Only and Abstinence-plus Education; Parent Programs; Separation of Students by Gender during Sex-Related Education Instruction.” Justia Law. Accessed October 22, 2019. https://law.justia.com/codes/mississippi/2018/title-37/chapter-13/sex-and-abstinence-education/section-37-13-171/.
(3) “2018 Mississippi Code :: Title 97 – Crimes :: Chapter 29 – Crimes Against Public Morals and Decency :: In General :: § 97-29-59. Unnatural Intercourse.” Justia Law. Justia. Accessed December 15, 2019. https://law.justia.com/codes/mississippi/2018/title-97/chapter-29/in-general/section-97-29-59/.
(4) “2012 Mississippi Code :: Title 37 – Education :: Chapter 13 – Curriculum; School Year and Attendance :: Sex and Abstinence Education (§§ 37-13-171 – 37-13-175) :: § 37-13-171. Implementation of Abstinence-Only or Abstinence-plus Education; State Department of Education Approval of Curriculum for Sex-Related Education Required; Components of Abstinence-Only and Abstinence-plus Education; Parent Programs; Separation of Students by Gender during Sex-Related Education Instruction [Repealed Effective July 1, 2016].” Justia Law. Accessed October 25, 2019. https://law.justia.com/codes/mississippi/2012/title-37/chapter-13/sex-and-abstinence-education/section-37-13-171/.
(5) “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2011: State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity.” Guttmacher Institute, November 6, 2017. https://www.guttmacher.org/report/us-teen-pregnancy-state-trends-2011.
(6) “2013 Mississippi Code :: Title 41 – PUBLIC HEALTH :: Chapter 79 – HEALTH PROBLEMS OF SCHOOL CHILDREN :: PREVENTION OF UNINTENDED TEEN PREGNANCY AND SEXUALLY TRANSMITTED INFECTIONS :: § 41-79-51 – Teen Pregnancy Prevention Task Force Created; Composition, Compensation, Staff, Duties [Repealed Effective July 1, 2016].” Justia Law. Accessed October 23, 2019. https://law.justia.com/codes/mississippi/2013/title-41/chapter-79/prevention-of-unintended-teen-pregnancy-and-sexually-transmitted-infections/section-41-79-51.
(7) “Rights at Risk: State Response to HIV in Mississippi.” Human Rights Watch, June 28, 2019. https://www.hrw.org/report/2011/03/09/rights-risk/state-response-hiv-mississippi.
(8) “State Health Facts.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, June 25, 2019. https://www.statehealthfacts.org/comparemaptable.jsp?ind=513&cat=11.
(9) Gold, Rachel Benson, Elizabeth Nash, and Guttmacher Institute. “State-Level Policies on Sexuality, STD Education.” Guttmacher Institute, December 6, 2016. https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2001/08/state-level-policies-sexuality-std-education.
(10) “2010 Mississippi Code :: TITLE 37 – EDUCATION :: :: Chapter 13 – Curriculum; School Year and Attendance. :: 37-13-171 – Abstinence Education; Components; Exception to Requirement; Parent Programs.” Justia Law. Accessed October 25, 2019. https://law.justia.com/codes/mississippi/2010/title-37/13/37-13-171/.
(11) “Sexuality Education in Mississippi: Progress in the Magnolia State.” Sexuality Education in Mississippi: Progress in the Magnolia State. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, February 2014. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Sexuality-Education-in-Mississippi-Progress-in-the-Magnolia-State.pdf.
(12) Canter, Rachel, Sanford Johnson, Angela Bass, MacKenzie Stroh, and Josh McCawley. “The Truth about Peppermint Pattie: The Real Story of Sex Ed in Mississippi.” Teen Health Mississippi. Mississippi First, October 2, 2017. https://teenhealthms.org/blog/the-truth-about-peppermint-pattie-the-real-story-of-sex-ed-in-mississippi/.
(13) Mississippi State Department of Health. “PREP for School Officials.” For School Officials – Mississippi State Department of Health. Accessed 2019. https://www.msdh.state.ms.us/msdhsite/_static/44,0,362,550.html.
(14) Campbell, Larrison. “Mississippi Extends Abstinence-Based Sex-Ed.” Mississippi Today, March 29, 2016. https://mississippitoday.org/2016/03/29/mississippi-extends-abstinence-based-sex-ed/.
(15) “House Bill 288.” HB 288 (As Introduced) – 2017 Regular Session. Mississippi Legislature, January 3, 2017. https://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2017/html/HB/0200-0299/HB0288IN.htm.
(16) “Mississippi HB1347: 2019: Regular Session.” LegiScan. Accessed October 26, 2019. https://legiscan.com/MS/bill/HB1347/2019.
(17) “House Bill 1347.” HB1347 (As Introduced) – 2019 Regular Session. Mississippi Legislature. Accessed October 26, 2019. https://billstatus.ls.state.ms.us/documents/2019/html/HB/1300-1399/HB1347IN.htm.
(18) Mississippi First, and Mississippi State Department of Health. Creating Healthy and Responsible Teens: District Implementation Guide. Jackson. Accessed October 31, 2019. https://teenhealthms.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/ChartImplementationBook422015.pdf.
(19) “Draw the Line/Respect the Line.” Program Success Center for Sexual & Reproductive Health. ETR Associates. Accessed November 9, 2019. https://www.etr.org/ebi/programs/draw-the-line/.
(20) “Reducing the Risk.” Program Success Center for Sexual & Reproductive Health. ETR Associates. Accessed November 9, 2019. https://www.etr.org/ebi/programs/reducing-the-risk/.
(21) “Evidence-Based Programs: Reducing the Risk, 5th Ed.” Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention. ETR Associates. Accessed November 14, 2019. https://recapp.etr.org/recapp/index.cfm?fuseaction=pages.ebpDetail&PageID=129.
(22) “County Stats.” Teen Health Mississippi. Mississippi First. Accessed November 9, 2019. https://teenhealthms.org/county-stats/.
(23) “About Us.” Choosing the Best. Choosing the Best Publishing. Accessed November 9, 2019. https://www.choosingthebest.com/about-us.
(24) “Choosing the Best JOURNEY.” JOURNEY. Choosing the Best Publishing. Accessed November 9, 2019. https://www.choosingthebest.com/journey.
(25) “Issue Brief: Sex-Related Education—Can Evidence Be Used to Make It More Effective?” Issue Brief: Sex-Related Education—Can Evidence Be Used to Make It More Effective? Center for Mississippi Health Policy, February 2016. https://mshealthpolicy.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Evidence-Based-SRE-Issue-Brief.pdf.
(26) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.