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Southern Region Still Has Work to Do on Adolescent Sexual Health

Monday, March 19, 2012

Two key advocacy and education organizations in South Carolina are joining 20 organizations across 10 southern states to call for improved sexual health education in the region as a strategy to prevent teen pregnancy and reduce sexually transmitted infections. Leaders of the New Morning Foundation and the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (SC Campaign) cite a new report from Auburn University that finds that nearly 90 percent of people in the U.S. South favor the teaching of comprehensive sex education (covering a range of topics) in public schools.

    Despite recent declines in teen pregnancy rates in South Carolina, there still exist great disparities between the southern region and the rest of the country. This unique 10-state partnership has been established to charter a new course for sex education that will contribute to closing the disparity between the southern region and the rest of the United States when it comes to sexual health among young people. Still, too high teen birth rates in the region are accompanied by Chlamydia and Gonorrhea rates that are the highest nationally for both females and males and the region ranks 2nd in terms of HIV.

    One of the key factors to this Southern sexual health disadvantage is the region’s focus on abstinence-only sex education, instead of a more comprehensive approach that also teaches about contraception and ways to prevent sexually transmitted infections and HIV.

    “Schools are one part of the solution when it comes to improving adolescent sexual health,” said Forrest Alton, Chief Executive Officer of the SC Campaign. “Our goal has always been to encourage our state’s leaders to invest in programs with proven efficacy. Schools are only one part of this equation and substantive change must involve others throughout the community.”

    The report also highlights opportunities leaders have to improve the sexual health of teenagers in the U.S. South through new federal grant programs that provide funding for the implementation of comprehensive programs.

    “Broad public support and new funding opportunities create a real chance for us to ensure teenagers have the information they need to make responsible, healthy choices – choices we know can change the course of their lives and improve the health of our communities and region,” said Brandi Parrish Ellison, Associate Director of the New Morning Foundation. “Bringing the South’s sexual health up to speed with the rest of the nation can be accomplished with a commitment to comprehensive sex education.”

    The regional group includes 20 organizations from Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia. These organizations have worked together since 2010 with support from the Ms. Foundation for Women. Both the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the New Morning Foundation have been active in this process, bringing innovative ideas and leadership to the proceedings.

View the full report from Auburn University, “Sexual Health of Young People in the U.S. South: Challenges and Opportunities.”

View South Carolina's State Profile. (DOC)