New study finds Indiana students at risk
The majority of sex education classes in Indiana's public middle schools and high schools are leaving out vital topics, according to a new study conducted by the Sexual Health Research Working Group at Indiana University in Bloomington.
Less than 50 percent of sexual education classes in Indiana schools teach about sexually transmitted diseases, sexual decision making, pregnancy, sexual abuse or contraception, according to the survey of 400 Indiana school teachers, nurses and counselors.
The research was commissioned by the Get Real, Indiana! coalition and funded by the Health Foundation of Greater Indianapolis to determine what kind of sex education young people are receiving in Indiana's public middle and high schools. Get Real, Indiana! is a statewide coalition of people and organizations that support medically accurate comprehensive sex education for all Indiana students.
"Fifty-one percent of teachers report not teaching about HIV/AIDS, and 75 percent are not teaching about self exams," said Kathleen Baldwin, vice president of education and training of Planned Parenthood of Indiana, a member organization of Get Real, Indiana!. "This is a surprising finding, because these subjects are required by state law. The omission of these topics could have serious health consequences for Indiana teen-agers.
"We compared the results of this survey to a survey of Indiana parents conducted in 2004 by Ball State University and found that the same subjects left out at school are being left out in parents' discussions with their teen-age children," Baldwin said. "Subjects such as sexually transmitted diseases, decision making, sexual assault or abuse, contraception and correct condom use tend to be avoided both at school and at home. If we want teen-agers to make intelligent decisions about their health, parents and schools need to address these issues."
Earlier this month, the Guttmacher Institute rated Indiana 49th among all states in contraception service availability and ranked its sex education policy in the "worst" category. Another national study issued by the National Center for Health Statistics in September found that more than 50 percent of teens 15 to 19 years of age have engaged in oral sex, but the vast majority of these teens are not using any protection against the associated health risks, which include gonorrhea, syphilis and herpes.
"Indiana spent $2.6 million in abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in 2004, yet Indiana teens have a higher rate of sexual activity, a lower rate of condom use and a higher birth rate than national averages," Baldwin said.
Even though 42 percent of educators responding to the IU survey reported following an abstinence-only curriculum, the majority of respondents ranked abstinence-plus and comprehensive sexuality education as the most effective curricula for teen-agers. Abstinence-plus and comprehensive sexuality education provide a full range of information relating to sexual health issues, including information about contraception that abstinence-only education leaves out.
"The survey results cause us to raise the question that if HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy and sexual decision making are not taught in the majority of Indiana's sex education courses, what is being taught?" said Alice Bennett of the Muncie Branch of the American Association of University Women, a member organization of Get Real, Indiana!.
"We shouldn't conclude that educators are doing a bad job," said Michael Reece, Ph.D., the Indiana University researcher who supervised the survey and compiled the results. "The survey shows that educators don't have a clear curriculum to follow, they lack resource materials, they are confused about what they are and are not allowed to teach, and in many cases they don't believe community members support what they are doing in sexuality education."
Nearly 90 percent of survey respondents report that they do not have a curriculum to follow. Only 43 percent of survey respondents knew that Indiana law requires teaching about HIV/AIDS and self exams.
"The survey results indicate a need to provide better training and resource materials for teachers, so they clearly understand what can and should be included in sexuality education classes," Reece said.
"We support comprehensive sex education because it has proven more effective than other programs at increasing safer choices by teens," said Cynthy Scruggs, vice president of the Indiana Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. "Providing thorough and accurate information respects the rights of youth and families making their own decisions, based on faith. Abstinence-only programs have proven much less effective and demonstrate a lack of respect for a variety of faiths."
Representatives of Get Real, Indiana! are encouraging parents to learn what is being taught in their children's schools and to talk to their children about sex. They are also encouraging other organizations to join their group and individuals to sign a petition to support comprehensive sexuality education. For more information, visit www.ppin.org/gri.