These organizations, brought together by the Ms. Foundation since 2010 through a series of in-person and telephone gatherings, are mobilizing in communities throughout the region to conduct local activities and events—from meeting with legislators and school board members to hosting press conferences and events that showcase the stories of young people—to raise awareness about poor sexual health in the South and advocate for change.
Among the highlights:
• The ACLU of Mississippi, in collaboration with state partners, is hosting gatherings with teen girls to discuss how the absence of comprehensive sex education has impacted their communities. The groups will write letters to the state superintendent and local school board members.
• The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina is hosting a two-day retreat called “Your Story is Your Strength: Turning Teen Parenthood into Power” in which teen mothers from across the state participate in workshop discussions and a media training.
A report just released by Auburn University at Montgomery’s Center for Demographic Research, “Sexual Health of Young People in the U.S. South: Challenges and Opportunities,” underscores the critical need for improved sexual health education in the Southern region.
Key findings include:
• The South’s sexual health profile ranks below that of every other region in the U.S.
• The teenage birth rate is higher in the South than anywhere else in the country.
• The teenage rates of chlamydia and gonorrhea are higher in the South than in other regions in the nation.
• Poor sexual health among teenagers has real costs in terms of public funds. For example, in 2008 an estimated $2.3 billion from federal, state and local governments was spent on teenage childbearing-related expenses in the South.
The report, commissioned by the Ms. Foundation for Women, also highlights opportunities decision-makers have to improve the sexual health of teenagers in the U.S. South, including new federal grant programs for adolescent sexual health and teen pregnancy prevention, which provide funding for the implementation of evidence-based and evidence-informed programs that teach young people how to delay sexual activity and avoid risky sexual behaviors.
Among other topics, these approaches include information about abstinence but also teach information on healthy relationships, contraception and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS. The report also found that nearly 90 percent of people in the U.S. South favor the teaching of sex education (covering a range of topics) in public schools.
Photo (c) Elizabeth Rappaport & the Ms. Foundation for Women