A 2011 Mississippi state law that requires sex education in the state's schools bans teachers in those classes from demonstrating how to apply condoms. It's one of many faults advocates for comprehensive sex education see in the law, which was implemented in part to reduce teen pregnancies in the Magnolia State, which ranks no. 2 in the country in teen pregnancy rates.
So Sanford Johnson, the deputy director of advocacy at education advocacy group Mississippi First, created this YouTube video in which he carefully explains how to put on a sock. "If you're going to engage in a shoe-related activity, make sure that your foot is protected. Make sure you use a sock each and every time," he says, adding that his advice applies "whether you're wearing dress shoes or athletic shoes."
Johnson's tongue-in-cheek (sock-in-shoe?) approach demonstrates a criticism of the state's sex education policy, which mandates abstinence or "abstinence-plus" classes in all schools. In a state with high rates of teen pregnancy, chlamydia, and gonorrhea—a state where 58 percent of teens reported having sex before the end of high school—some think clear advice about practical issues, such as condom application, is important.
This Los Angeles Times article outlines some of the major criticisms:
- The law requires written permission from parents to opt in to classes, rather than requiring notice if families choose to opt out, which is the standard in a majority of states.
- The law requires separate classes for boys and girls.
- The law removes the authority of local school boards to choose sex education that does not include instruction on abstinence.
- The law prohibits teaching "that abortion can be used to prevent the birth of a baby."
- There are no "teeth" or penalties for districts that ignore the law and don't adopt sex-ed curriculum.
Mississippi, like many other southern states, has a large Christian population that is deeply involved in policy and public service, and many Christians favor an abstinence-only approach or think more comprehensive sex education promotes early sexual activity. Even some of its the Mississippi law's critics have agreed that it is a big step forward from having no sex-ed requirement at all.
A February report on Mississippi by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States included survey data showing that 43% of middle schools and 24% of high schools in the state reported that if the law had not been passed, they would not be teaching sex education classes. SIECUS describes the new state law as "a big step in the right direction to improve the health of young people in Mississippi."
"Before 2011, schools in Mississippi were not even required to teach sexuality education or provide instruction on STD/HIV prevention--and now a law is in place requiring school districts to adopt a policy to implement sexuality education. This progress, in one of the most conservative states in the union, is a truly impressive example for the rest of the nation. However, there is still much room for improvement."
The challenges Mississippi faces in charting a sex-ed course are not unique. States around the country have heard from concerned parents and critics who argue that they are teaching too much or too little about sex to public school students. Here are a sampling of recent stories from Kansas, Hawaii, and Alaska. In many cases, problems arise with the nature of curriculum or special programs selected at a district level.
Mississippi's sex-ed law is set to expire in July 2016. It will be interesting to see how the state proceeds at that point and how that decision informs debate in other parts of the country.