Mandatory sex education in South Carolina began in 1988, with the passage of the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA) (1). Under CHEA, the state’s school boards and public schools were required to “develop age-appropriate academic standards for health education, including instruction on physical activity; nutrition; alcohol, tobacco, and drug use; and sexual health” (1).
CHEA defines “reproductive health education” as instruction in human physiology, conception, prenatal care and development, childbirth, and postnatal care, but does not include instruction concerning sexual practices outside marriage or practices unrelated to reproduction except within the context of the risk of disease. Abstinence and the risks associated with sexual activity outside of marriage must be strongly emphasized (2).
Compared to its neighbors, South Carolina was ahead of its time in the realm of sex ed: North Carolina did not mandate sex ed until 2009, and Georgia public schools are still not required by law to teach sex ed (3,4).
Timeline & Notable Legislation
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. (28)
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.
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. (28)
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. (28)
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 in South Carolina…
1988: CHEA comes into effect, mandating sex ed in SC public schools (1). That same year, SC’s teen pregnancy rate stands at 115 pregnancies per 1,000 females* ages 15-19 (5).
1994: The South Carolina Council on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (SCCAPP) is founded. SCCAPP is funded by a partnership between March of Dimes and the South Carolina Health and Human Services Commission (6).
1995: Governor David Beasley pulls state funding for SCCAPP, but the program continues with the support of March of Dimes (6).
1997: SCCAPP publishes South Carolina Speaks, “a survey of registered voters regarding sex education in public schools” (6).
1998: South Carolina Legislature commits $10.5 million toward the establishment of the South Carolina County Grant Fund for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Initiatives. The grant bolsters teen-pregnancy prevention efforts in all of the Palmetto State’s 46 counties (6).
2011: According to the Guttmacher Institute, South Carolina ranks 13th in the nation for teen pregnancies, with 59 pregnancies per 1,000 pregnancies between the ages 15-19. Between 2010-2011, SC experiences a 7-point drop in teen pregnancy rates (7).
2013: Guttmacher reports that SC experiences a 58% percent decrease in teen pregnancies during the 25-year period between 1988 and 2013 (8).
2015: Sexual abuse and assault awareness added to SC’s sex ed curriculum (2).
2016: Legislation introduced in SC House (HB 3447) and Senate (SB 574) to amend the language of CHEA. Under the proposed changes, sex education curriculums would be required to be medically accurate and include information about sexual abuse and assault. School districts would also be mandated to publish which curricular material(s) would be used in sex ed classrooms. Penalties would be imposed for non-compliance. Bills do not pass (9,10).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Sex ed is required in South Carolina according to the dictates of CHEA, and each SC high school student receives 750 minutes of sex ed. (1,2) Although sex ed instruction must be age appropriate and include information about HIV, it does not have to medically accurate, nor does it have be culturally appropriate and unbiased (11). There is no rule preventing the promotion of religion in South Carolina sex ed classrooms (11). In terms of parental role, parents must be given notice that their children will be receiving sex ed, but parental consent is not required (11). Parents can choose to have their children opt out of sex ed entirely (11).
Although each district may adopt its own curriculum, CHEA dictates what can and can’t be taught within sex ed classrooms (2). Let’s dig a little bit more deeply and examine exactly how CHEA shapes the Palmetto State’s approach to sex education.
Abstinence (and Marriage) Emphasis
According to CHEA, within South Carolina sex ed classrooms, “[a]bstinence and the risks associated with sexual activity outside of marriage must be strongly emphasized.” The law defines “pregnancy prevention education” as “instruction [that] stresses the importance of abstaining from sexual activity until marriage” (2). Pregnancy prevention education also has to “help students develop skills to enable them to resist peer pressure and abstain from sexual activity” (2).
CHEA states that sex ed “may not include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships including, but not limited to, homosexual relationships except in the context of instruction concerning sexually transmitted diseases” (2). In 2016, The Charleston Post and Courier reported that the Charleston County School Board nixed proposed changes to the middle-school sex ed curriculum that would have included references to bisexuality and a same-sex relationship (12).
- No mention of contraceptive methods before students reach sixth grade (2).
- Contraceptives can only be discussed within the context of “future family planning” (2).
- High-school students do get instruction in “methods of contraception and the risks and benefits of each method”
- No distribution of condoms or other contraceptive devices. The law states, “[n]o contraceptive device or contraceptive medication may be distributed in or on the school grounds of any public elementary or secondary school. No school district may contract with any contraceptive provider for their distribution in or on the school grounds” (2)
- Abortion cannot be included as a method of birth control. CHEA further states, “[e]xcept as to that instruction provided by this chapter relating to complications which may develop from all types of abortions, school districts may not offer programs, instruction, or activities including abortion counseling, information about abortion services, or assist in obtaining abortion, and materials containing this information must not be distributed in schools” (2).
What the kids are actually learning
Although curricular specifics differ from school district to school district, a glance at Charleston County Schools’ curriculum provides insight into the South Carolina’s approach to sex ed.
In 2016, The Charleston Post and Courier published a PDF containing the portions of the Making a Difference! sex ed curriculum that the Charleston County School Board deemed inappropriate for middle schoolers. These nixed portions included role-playing activities that mentioned same-sex relationships and IV drug use (13).
As of the 2018-2019 school year, Charleston County School District still uses the Making a Difference! (5th ed, ETR Associates) curriculum for middle school students (grades 6-8), along with the following materials:
- Teen Health: Course 1-3 (Glencoe/McGraw-Hill)
- Raising the Standard (Heritage Keepers)
- Safer, Smarter Teens (Lauren’s Kids) – Child abuse-prevention curriculum
- Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse (Texas Education Agency) (14).
Making a Difference! touts itself as “an evidence-based, abstinence approach to teen pregnancy and HIV/STD” (15).
According to the ETR website, Making a Difference!’s central curricular goal is to: “…empower young adolescents to change their behavior in ways that will reduce their risk of pregnancy, HIV and other STD infection.” The curriculum emphasizes that young adolescents should postpone sexual activity and that practicing abstinence is the only way to eliminate the risk for pregnancy and STDs, including HIV (15).
Here’s a snapshot of the Making a Difference! curriculum, in the form of program activities:
- The goals and dreams activity focuses on having the adolescents consider their goals for the future and how participating in sexual activity at their current age might thwart the attainment of their goals. It makes clear that their best strategy is to abstain from sex.
- The curriculum incorporates the “Make a Difference! Be Proud! Be Responsible!” theme that encourages the participants to make a difference and abstain from sex, to be proud of themselves, their family and their community, and to behave responsibly for the sake of themselves, their family and their community” (15).
To see a sample lesson plan from ETR’s Making a Difference! curriculum, click here (16).
For high school students, CCDS uses the following sex ed curriculular materials:
- A Teen’s Guide to Healthy Sexuality (McGraw-Hill)
- Reducing the Risk! – 5th Edition (ETR Associates)
- Raising the Standard (Heritage Keepers)
- Safer, Smarter Teens (Lauren’s Kids) (14).
The above materials range from teaching abstinence as the best and safest approach, with a sprinkle of here’s how to reduce your risk for those who are sexually active (17), to teaching an abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum (19).
Raising the Standard is published by South Carolina’s Heritage Community Services, an organization with anti-choice roots, including a connection to a “crisis pregnancy center” which exists to convince people facing an unplanned pregnancy not to choose an abortion (20). This is not disclosed on the curriculum’s website.
Martha Kempne, a sex educator who has reviewed and evaluated numerous sex ed curricula for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), had this to say about the Heritage Keepers curriculum:
“What struck me most about the curricula was that it wasn’t even trying to be sex education like so many of the abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum I had read which had whole lesson plans dedicated to the perils of STDs, pregnancy, and relying on condoms. Though it included a tiny bit of information on body parts, said a few words on how condoms don’t work, and borrowed the Medical Institute’s slide show on outrageous STDs, it was barely about sex. This was about marriage. It tells students why (heterosexual) marriage is so important—for individuals, for children, for society. And it explains in great detail, using lots of (sketchy) statistics, why no other relationship can possibly be as fulfilling or as important. It is essentially a marriage promotion curriculum for the under-15 set” (22).
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
In June 2019, the Charleston Post and Courier reported parental outcry over the Charleston County School District’s recruitment of clergy members for a health education committee (23). The response came after parents found an online posting looking for members of the religious community to join the committee (23).
While the inclusion of clergy in decisions about sex ed instruction might seem strange, it’s actually dictated by SC law—as part of CHEA. CHEA states that “[t]o assist in the selection of components and curriculum materials, each local school board shall appoint a thirteen-member local advisory committee consisting of two parents, three clergy, two health professionals, two teachers, two students, one being the president of the student body of a high school, and two other persons not employed by the local school district” (2).
Yes, you read that correctly: there are more clergy members on the committee than health professionals.
There is evidence to suggest that South Carolinians would support more comprehensive forms of sex ed in the state’s public schools. In 2017, the University of South Carolina’s Sarah Kershner published a study that found that 90% of respondents favored comprehensive sex education in public schools. Kersher defines CSE as “programs which teach about abstinence as the best method for avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancy, but also provide medically accurate information about contraceptives and condoms, thus promoting abstinence along with protective behaviors to reduce the risk of unintended pregnancy and infection with STIs, including HIV” (24).
Note that under CHEA sex ed is not required to be medically accurate in South Carolina public schools, so CSE (as defined by Kershner) would be different than the instruction students currently receive.
What’s more, Kershner’s study found that “71% [respondents] support access to birth control and condoms as an effective strategy for decreasing pregnancies and STIs among adolescents” (24).
One organization hard at work to better sex ed in South Carolina is the Carolina Youth Action Project.
CYAP supports a Sex Education Beyond Abstinence program as a “push for young people to have access to sex education courses that affirm queer and trans identities, and discuss consent, healthy relationships, anatomy, barriers and contraception, body positivity, sustainable hygiene products, pleasure, and abortion” (25, 26).
On Saturday, November 16, 2019, CYAP held its first ever Campaign Convening, a daylong event for female-identifying, trans, and gender-nonconforming people youth, at Palmetto Scholars Academy in North Charleston. One of the event topics was CYAP’s Sex Education Beyond Abstinence campaign initiative. Teens had the opportunity to discuss their own experiences with sex ed in South Carolina schools and “learn[ed] how to get involved in local campaign work” (27).
More resources for ya...
The following organizations support comprehensive, evidence-based (not abstinence-only or “abstinence-plus”), medically accurate reproductive health education in South Carolina:
Written by: Lizzy Steiner
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) Orekoya, Olubunmi, Kellee White, Marsha Samson, and Alyssa G. Robillard. “The South Carolina Comprehensive Health Education Act Needs to Be Amended.” American Journal of Public Health 106, no. 11 (2016): 1950–52. https://doi.org/10.2105/ajph.2016.303378.
(2) Code of Laws – Title 59 – Chapter 32 – Comprehensive Health Education Program. South Carolina Legislature. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://www.scstatehouse.gov/code/t59c032.php.
(3) “Sex Education and Schools.” NC Youth Connected. Accessed November 1, 2019. https://www.ncyouthconnected.org/about-sex-education-and-schools.
(4) Peel, Sophie. “Many Georgia School Districts Tell Students: No Sex until Marriage.” Macon. Macon Telegraph, August 2, 2018. https://www.macon.com/news/local/education/article215972505.html.
(5) Office of Adolescent Health. “South Carolina Adolescent Reproductive Health Facts.” HHS.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services, March 27, 2019. https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/south-carolina/index.html.
(6) “History.” Fact Forward. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.factforward.org/about/history.
(7) “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2011: State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity.” Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute, 2011. https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/report_downloads/us-teen-pregnancy-state-trends-2011_tables.pdf.
(8) Kost, Kathryn, Isaac Maddow-Zimet, and Alex Arpaia. “Pregnancies, Births and Abortions Among Adolescents and Young Women In the United States, 2013: National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity.” Pregnancies, Births and Abortions Among Adolescents and Young Women In the United States, 2013: National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity. Guttmacher Institute, August 2017. https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/us-adolescent-pregnancy-trends-2013.pdf.
(9) South Carolina Legislature Online – Bill Search by Bill Number. South Carolina Legislative Services Agency. Accessed October 31, 2019. https://www.scstatehouse.gov/billsearch.php?billnumbers=3447&session=121&summary=B.
(10) 2015-2016 Bill 574: Comprehensive health education – South Carolina Legislature Online. South Carolina Legislative Services Agency. Accessed November 6, 2019. https://www.scstatehouse.gov/sess121_2015-2016/bills/574.htm.
(11) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute, November 1, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(12) Pan, Deanna. “Charleston County School Board Nixes Part of Sex Education Curriculum.” The Post and Courier. October 24, 2016. https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-county-school-board-nixes-part-of-sex-education-curriculum/article_7e6f1846-9a09-11e6-b4df-e32fc56b9b8d.html.
(13) Jemmott, Loretta Sweet, John B Jemott, and Konstance A McCaffree. “Appendix A: Additional Games/Activities.” In Making a Difference! 5th Edition, 222–59. ETR Associates. Accessed November 10, 2019. https://bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/postandcourier.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/6/61/661df00c-9ac5-11e6-92a6-2f5d9c6e6412/580f7694af314.pdf.pdf.
(14) “2018-19 Comprehensive Health Education Charleston County School District.” Charleston County School District. Charleston County School District, 2018. https://www.ccsdschools.com/cms/lib/SC50000504/Centricity/Domain/117/CCSD Website – Comprehensive Health.pdf.
(15) “Making a Difference! 5th Edition Basic Set.” ETR. ETR Associates. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.etr.org/store/product/making-a-difference-5th-edition-basic-set/.
(16) “Free Sample Lessons: Making A Difference! 5th Edition.” ETR. ETR Associates. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://go.etr.org/MAD-free-lesson.
(17) “Center Home.” Reducing the Risk. ETR Associates. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.etr.org/ebi/programs/reducing-the-risk/.
(18) “Teen Health, Healthy Relationships and Sexuality.” McGraw-Hill. McGraw-Hill, January 3, 2013. https://www.mheducation.com/prek-12/product/teen-health-healthy-relationships-sexuality-mcgraw-hill/9780076640447.html.
(19) “Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education.” Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education. Heritage Community Services, January 29, 2019. https://www.heritageservices.org/curriculum/heritage-keepers-abstinence-education-level-i/.
(20) Kempner, Martha. “Family Makes Millions Taking in Federal Funds for Failed Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs.” Truthout. Truthout, May 8, 2012. https://truthout.org/articles/family-makes-millions-taking-in-federal-funds-for-failed-abstinence-only-until-marriage-programs/.
(21) “Evidence-Based Programs: Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education.” Resource Center for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention (ReCAPP). ETR Associates. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://recapp.etr.org/Recapp/index.cfm?fuseaction=pages.ebpDetail&PageID=720.
(22) Kempner, Martha. “Marriage Promotion for Eighth Graders: Even Among Abstinence-Only Programs, Heritage Keepers Stands Out.” Rewire.News. Rewire.News, May 3, 2012. https://rewire.news/article/2012/05/02/marriage-promotion-eighth-graders-even-among-abstinence-only-programs-heritage-ke/.
(23) Schiferl, Jenna. “Charleston Parents Slam SC Sex Ed Law Giving Clergy Members More Say than Health Experts.” Post and Courier. June 19, 2019. https://www.postandcourier.com/news/charleston-parents-slam-sc-sex-ed-law-giving-clergy-members/article_1cbf7396-92a6-11e9-acbd-dbb5b801180f.html.
(24) Kershner, Sarah H., Sara J. Corwin, Mary S. Prince, Alyssa G. Robillard, and Robert W. Oldendick. “Support for Comprehensive Sexuality Education and Adolescent Access to Condoms and Contraception in South Carolina.” American Journal of Sexuality Education 12, no. 3 (March 2017): 297–314. https://doi.org/10.1080/15546128.2017.1359803.
(25) “Mission & Vision.” Carolina Youth Action Project. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.scyouthaction.org/about.
(26) “Campaign Work.” Carolina Youth Action Project. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.scyouthaction.org/campaign-work.
(27) “2019 CYAP Campaign Convening Registration.” Carolina Youth Action Project. Accessed November 15, 2019. https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfStbdDlIAUox1eNgB0D5XTm57HChDzOWnO9gqlMTS_-753TQ/viewform.
(28) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.