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September 3rd, 2009
07:13 AM ET

Educating America: Sex ed is back

By Carol Costello and Ronni Berke

Since President Obama cut federal funding for the “abstinence-only” sex education program, many schools across the country are implementing more comprehensive sex education classes. North Carolina is one of them.

The teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina rose more than 12 percent from 2003 to 2007, according to the state's health department figures.

The teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina rose more than 12 percent from 2003 to 2007, according to the state's health department figures.

Since 1996, North Carolina law required teachers to tell teenagers they were “expected” to abstain from “sexual activity outside of marriage.” However, the law did not have the lasting effect on teenagers officials had hoped.

“They've gotten pregnant more often. Imagine that,” says Gaston County Health Director Colleen Bridger. “Our STD rates are going up. Our pregnancy rates are going up.”

According to North Carolina Health Department figures, from 2003 to 2007 the teenage pregnancy rate rose more than 12 percent. North Carolina now has the ninth highest teen pregnancy rate in the country.

CNN spoke to some students who lobbied lawmakers for a change in the law to allow teachers to tell high school students about contraception – because of their experiences in "abstinence only” classes in high school.

Watch: NC sex ed is back Video

“People were raising their hands and asking really interesting questions and she wasn't able to answer them just because the curriculum told her you know you only can talk about this and this but you know not this and this and this,” recounts Eli MacDonald, 16.

Gabriella Magallanes, 19, remembers her teacher telling the class to "wait to have sex until you get married," and that "condoms won’t work." If you have sex, "you're going to get an STD and die.” Magallanes adds: “When kids hear that, they shut their ears off, they just stop listening.”

But Jere Royall of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, says the abstinence-only curriculum works for students, when taught properly. “They need to understand that sexuality is an important part of life … but what they also need to understand what the consequences are if they engage in sexual activity outside of marriage,” he says.

In the end, lawmakers listened to both sides, amending the original law passed in 1995 so that teachers first instruct students about abstinence and then about what they can do if they're having sex. It’s a challenge Bridger and other health officials are willing to take on.

“The starting point is getting people comfortable transitioning from saying, ‘We expect you not to have sex, but if you do, here are some things you can do to protect yourself. Here are some things you can do to reduce your risks.’”

There is still an alternative for parents who want their kids to be taught only abstinence. When the new law takes effect in North Carolina next year, parents will still be allowed to opt out of comprehensive sex education classes.

Filed under: Educating America • Education
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. George

    Assumption of having only parents teach sex education is that parents has the knowledge and skill set to provide sex education. If the parents do not have the knowledge and skill set for it, should we expect their children to have a proper sex education without outside involvement i.e. government? If government involvement is the only concern regarding sex education, then a non-for profit (or for profit if one fears "activist organizations") can provide sex education to school children. As ms. c stated, parents can get involve. Still, I believe it is naive to think that all children will get the proper sex education they need to make an informed decision from just one source i.e. parents, organizations, or schools.

    September 30, 2009 at 10:39 am |
  2. Amie

    Unfortunately I think parents have forgotten their responsibility to their children. We aren't teaching them to respect their bodies. Abstinence is the only way. I don't know about you but I'm sure glad my husband didn't have sex with a dozen women before he met me. The only person I want to have sex with is him not 12 other women too. We seem to devalue how important sex is. It brings two people together and makes them one. How many times are you willing to give yourself away? Sex ed tells kids it's o.k. to have sex. Never once when I took sex ed in high school did our teacher ever say how special sex was or how intimate it is. Parents need to know where their kids are that's what's going to prevent teen sex. We aren't teaching our kids morals at all. We're giving kids too much power.

    September 16, 2009 at 12:01 am |
  3. ms.c

    Kids should always learn sex education from parents but let's face it, some parents will not teach their kids. So should they learn the wrong things from their friends if parents won't teach them? The schools should teach truthful sex education and who knows maybe in turn help parents overcome their shyness, awkwardness or ignorance. Hopefully this will get parents back into what their children are learning in school and become a collaborator with the teacher in their children education. I was a teen mother but I knew subject area my children were covering in school. By the way I am African-American. My father came from Jim Crow North Carolina and was a forward thinker. He died when I was young and my late mother NEVER taught me sex education nor forward thininking because she lacked the skill set.

    September 4, 2009 at 7:45 am |
  4. Linda

    As a NC resident, was born here and still live here, I believe the schools are NOT the place to teach children about sex or sex protection. I was a teen bride in NC, but I was also not sexually active prior to marriage. I was taught abstinence by my Mother and faith. But I was raised in an entirely different generation when government intervention was not even a thought, much less practice. You were expected to be a lady or gentlemen and respect yourself and others,

    Parents should have an open dialogue with their very young children that will set a foundation for later good choices for health and mature life experiences.

    Folks, stop sending your children to learn how to live when it is your job to teach them that! Unless, you never learned it yourself.

    September 4, 2009 at 5:14 am |
  5. Kristie

    Teens need accurate information, not abstinence information that is not real world.

    September 3, 2009 at 7:12 pm |
  6. jay m

    Who are we fooling teenagers know everything about having sex, the schools should teach them the consequences of having sex. Like getting pregnant,and sexually transmitted diseases.

    September 3, 2009 at 3:18 pm |
  7. ivanhoe

    The "concept" of abstinence is certainly a noble one and we see it practiced by many of strong will or religious conviction. What seems to happen is that most adults who concern themselves with this topic do so from their unique "adult" perspective and have long forgotten the hormone wars raging inside teenage bodies. Once these natural teen urges are joined with the constant sexual bombardment from ads, music and film plus the peer driven alcohol and drug pressures then ,with or without ,sex education most of these kids are faced with some pretty confusing and sometimes insurmountable choices. The best we can hope for is to arm them with every possible piece of information along with proper guidelines and instill in them not a sense of shame or fear but of "trust" that they will come to an adult when the questions or tempting situations arise (which they inevitably shall). For those of us "adults" who fail to admit or remember the similar trials we faced at those awkward ages then perhaps we should not be sooooo judgmental and unsympathetic. We "all" were once where these children are now (biologically ,at least) so let us temper our instructions with empathy rather than pure academic or morality driven ardor. Afterall despite the well intentioned warnings all of us never realized that fire was hot UNTIL we got burned a little!

    September 3, 2009 at 2:18 pm |
  8. Alex from PA

    Parents need to be responsible for teaching the children/adolescents as well. If the disease rate/pregnancy rate is rising, it's because the teens simply don't have enough structure in their lives or enough parental involvement/care.

    September 3, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  9. Sherri

    I think parents need to start being parents and quit expecting our schools to teach our children everything they need to know.
    People now days seem to want to have kids but then expect everyone else to do the parenting for them....wake up and start being responsible for your own kid's!

    September 3, 2009 at 10:07 am |
  10. ronvan

    NO, NO, NO: Why is it that we feel the School system is suppossed to parent/teach our children? They job is to teach the basics, not to raise kids. BUT, we as a whole have created this problem. Parents having to work to provide the basics, kids left alone, and on and on.
    Look at the news. Can't afford school buses, can't afford new schools, temporary (trailer) classrooms, you know the deal. Look at the incident the other day with the man slaping a woman's child because he/she was having a fit. Now don't get me wrong, if this happened to one of my kids this guy would have wound up in the hospital. On the other side if the woman would have tried to discipline the child there is the possibility of a "good samaratan" contacting child services! AGAIN, we have created these problems and todays parents are either trying to provide for their families or have been threatened so much that dicipline is not an option.

    September 3, 2009 at 9:20 am |
  11. Student

    As a student currently taking health class in the state of California, I can say that as of right now, the health class system seems decently effecient in teaching the consequences of sex (STD's, Financial struggle, ect.), but the truth is, even though I'm one of the few seniors in the class filled in a class of 11th and 10th graders, I feel like I went down a school level. The Fact of the matter is most students are so immature that they could never handle talking about abstinence because of their egos. I do not a approve of teaching abstinence only because I feel that it would really have no effect on us students, or even possibly a negative effect.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:43 am |
  12. Liberal4Obama

    Abstinence only does not work, when will religious people understand that you cant tell people what to do with their own bodies, it doesn't matter what the situation is, abortion, premarital sex etc. What we can do is put programs in place that provide accurate and timely information so that teens can make informed decisions.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  13. Anthony

    Abstinence only does not work. I live in a small county in North Carolina and you can look around and see that. Part of the problem though when it comes to sex ed in NC and really most of the country is that parents don't want the schools teaching there children sex ed but at the same time they don't want to tell there own children about sex and everything that goes with it. Most of the conversations now are generally "don't do it". That is not good parenting. Explain to kids why you don't want them to have sex. Explain the consequences. And finally, let them know that if they do decide to have sex that 1) you will still love them, and 2) to use protection. Condoms, the pill, whatever it takes to avoid pregnancy and disease.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  14. Chelsea

    I have to say that as a student who went through an abstinence only program, I believe that they do not work. Where will high school students learn how to protect themselves not just from getting pregnant but From catching an STD. Currently one in three sexually active adults have an STD. I believe that is is because of the lack of information given to students who are just starting to explore their sexuality. There needs to be a universal change across the country. Educate the teens and young adults.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:40 am |
  15. Kathy

    Abstinence only???? Teens are biologically programmed to "breed". A hundred years ago teens were getting married and having children., These young people need to know about their bodies and how they work. Sex should not be some big scary and enticing mystery. It is the
    basis for life.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  16. Michael S.

    Why should it be left to the school systems to teach these kids about sex education? Where are the parents!? Maybe it's me me but it seems like there's a rift between the relationships between kids and there parents and that parents are putting their responsibilities on the school systems/ government instead of owning up and handling it themselves.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  17. Andrea

    Take a look at sex ed in Holland for example. They have the least unwanted pregnancies, the lowest number of abortions and one of the most liberal laws for abortion. In Germany kids start learning about condoms in fourth grade. I think the US can do a lot better, especially in regard of the fact that the US has the biggest porn industry, the highest number of divorces etc.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:38 am |
  18. Anthony D.

    Kids are not learning too much, we're not teaching them enough! Americans, as always, are assuming that our kids are stupid. When you tell a teen that "if they have sex, they'll catch a disease and die", they'll realize you're full of it, and tune you out. They're not Republicans. They just don't swallow every line you feed them. The minute we stop being patronizing to our kids, the better off we'll be.

    September 3, 2009 at 8:36 am |
  19. mrs. m

    Has anyone asked Sarah Palin's daughter what her thoughts are??

    September 3, 2009 at 8:35 am |
  20. ms.c

    I have always said that abstinence only education doesn't work. The real tragedy is that our kids are continuing to get pregnant and worse contract diseases. Doesn't HIV alone offer a shift in how sex education should be taught? I taught my girls protection because being a teen mother myself I wanted more for them in life. Also, if a teen wants to have sex there is no way to prevent it. We can't watch them 24 hours a day. I know that being a single mother I couldn't. Results: I'm now planning for graduate school; one child has a graduate degree and is pursuing another; one has a bachelors degree. My eldest, has a happy marriage and two kids and working full time while pursuing an undergrad degree. Again, abstinence doesn't work! Education does!

    September 3, 2009 at 8:00 am |