A new school year means new teachers, new classes, and – for some North Carolina students – new sex ed. If you’re a parent, you should know what to expect.
North Carolina Schools: Leading the Way
Since the 2010-11 academic year, North Carolina schools have been required to provide students in grades 7-9 with comprehensive sex education, or what the schools call Reproductive Health and Safety Education. Overall, in these grades, students should learn medically accurate, age appropriate information about:
- All FDA-approved methods of contraception
- Ways to avoid HIV and STDs, including HPV
- Relationships, including how to avoid/prevent abuse, violence, and sexual assault
These baseline recommendations fit nicely with what we, along with experts from organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend for students in this age group. You can check out the full set of Essential Standards that students are supposed to learn in Reproductive Health and Safety Education.
North Carolina’s sex ed law (which passed as the Healthy Youth Act) is the good news… Unfortunately, not every school follows the law. In some cases, schools haven’t had the resources to train teachers and buy new teaching materials. In other cases, administrators are afraid of controversy – even though about 90% of parents want their kids to get the information included under the new law.
At APPCNC, we work with school systems to help them update their policies, practices, and procedures so that they can meet the new standards, and ultimately provide students with a great education. In a workshop called “Awkward to Awesome”, we train teachers to feel comfortable answering the craziest question a 7th grader can muster. We help schools examine different lesson plans and curricula to see what fits both the law and their local community. We also help get everyone in a school system on the same page – so teachers feel supported by their principal; so principals feel supported by their central office, and so no one feels heartburn about getting students important health information.
Your Role as a Parent
North Carolina’s sex ed law specifically encourages parent participation – but it varies from district to district. If your child’s school offers a parent night, we encourage you to go. Your child may also have homework that encourages you to share your thoughts and values about sex and relationships. Do it. It’s important.
If you’re uncomfortable with the sex ed that your child is being provided, you can opt them out. However, we encourage you to talk with the teacher first to try to understand what’s being taught. Always know that:
- Comprehensive sex ed will help your child stay healthier.
- Students who receive comprehensive sex ed stay abstinent longer and are far more likely to be safe and responsible later in life than students who get no sex ed or abstinence-only sex ed.
- Comprehensive sex ed does not encourage early sexual activity and won’t make your child more likely to have sex.
Finally, show your child’s teacher and principal that you support comprehensive sex ed. Fear of controversy is a big barrier to great education. Your vocal support can help make things better for everyone.
The North Carolina Department of Public Instructions (NC DPI) released the results of their 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) today. The survey asks high school and middle school students about their health behaviors and experiences. Many of the questions relate to students sexual health, wellbeing, and safety.
Below, we’ve detailed what the new YRBS data tells us about students’ sexual health. Any increases or decreases noted are the change from the 2011 survey unless otherwise noted. View the full YRBS surveys.
On balance, the results of the 2013 YRBS illustrate very positive trends. Fewer students are sexually active, and more sexually active students report using condoms. Fewer students report being bullied, raped, or experiencing intimate partner violence. The 2013 also provides more information to help educators, parents, and communities address bullying and the needs of LGBT youth.
2013 High School Results
47.3% have ever had sexual intercourse. This represents a 10% decrease in the past 10 years, and a 7% decrease since North Carolina improved its sex education under the 2009 Healthy Youth Act. The decrease was seen for both boys and girls and in all grades.
32.1% had sexual intercourse during the past three months, a common way for researchers to define students as “currently sexually active.” This percentage also decreased.
Of currently sexually active students:
- 60.8% used a condom during last sexual intercourse, a 13% increase since 2011.
- 21.2% drank alcohol or used drugs before last sexual intercourse
15.1% have had sexual intercourse with four or more people during their life, another decrease.
17.1% report that their partner was three or more years older the last time they had sexual intercourse. These numbers were much higher for female students and students in 9th grade.
4.8% have had sexual contact with both males and females during their life.
9.4% were hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by their boyfriend or girlfriend during the past 12 months. This is lower than previous years, and more common in younger grades.
6.6% had sexual intercourse for the first time before the age of 13, something that correlates strongly with sexual abuse and assault.
8.9% of all students and 12.8% of girls have ever been physically forced to have sexual intercourse when they did not want to.
10.7% have ever been the victim of teasing or name calling during the past 12 months because someone thought they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual.
12.5% have been electronically bullied during the past 12 months.
59.1% have seen other students being bullied in their school during the past 12 months
73.4% say parents or other adults in their family talked with them about what they expect them to do or not to do when it comes to sex. This is higher for female students and African-American students.
6.2% – 2.2% of boys and 9.8% of girls – describe themselves as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.
19.6% who usually talk with their parent or other adult family member when they have questions about sexually transmitted diseases (STD), HIV, AIDS, or pregnancy prevention.
11.3% have ever been tested for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
North Carolina middle school students are given an abbreviated survey with fewer sexual health questions.
11.4% have ever had sexual intercourse.
- 78.8% of 8th graders had ever been taught about abstaining from sexual activity.
- 91.3% of 8th graders had been taught in school about AIDS or HIV infection.
- 66.4% of 8th graders Percent had ever been taught about chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, or human papillomavirus, or genital warts.
24.9% usually talk with their parent or other adult family member when they have questions about sexually transmitted diseases (STD), HIV, AIDS, or pregnancy prevention.
- 42.7% have ever been bullied on school property
- 18.9% have ever been the victim of teasing or name calling during the past 12 months because someone thought they were gay, lesbian, or bisexual, a decrease since the question was first asked in 2011.
- 19.3% have been electronically bullied.
MEDIA CONTACT: Elizabeth Finley, Director of Strategic Communications, (919) 749-7309 (mobile) or (919) 226-1880 (office)
Although our name says “teen pregnancy prevention”, we spend an awful amount of time thinking about overall sexual health. April, it turns out, is a pretty big month for sexual health awareness!
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month
When people try to connect child abuse and teen pregnancy, they often fall back on the myth of the terrible teen parent and assume – falsely – that young parents are destined to be bad parents. Really, the connection works the other way: Most young people who become sexually active before age 15 report that their earliest sexual experiences were nonconsensual, often in the form of child sexual abuse. We also know that young people who experience high numbers of adverse childhood experiences become sexually active at a younger age than their peers who had safe, nurturing childhoods – and that early sexual activity can correlate with lower contraceptive use and relationships with an unhealthy age gap. Learn more about how to raise awareness.
April is STD Awareness Month
Helping young people understand, prevent, and treat sexually transmitted diseases pretty clearly falls in the sexual health wheelhouse. In fact, many of the evidence-based programs that help young people avoid an unplanned pregnancy were originally designed to help people avoid HIV. The overlap between preventing STD transmission and unplanned pregnancy has another intersection: the health care system. When pediatricians, OB/GYNs, and other clinicians take a patient’s sexual health history – something they should do at every visit, according to best practices in adolescent care – they have the ability to talk about a patient’s birth control needs, their need for any screening, and potential risks. Similarly, when we normalize seeking sexual health care, we make it easier for young people to prevent both unplanned pregnancy and STDs. Learn more about how to raise awareness.
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month
There are so intersections between sexual assault and pregnancy, from the obvious (pregnancy resulting from an assault) to the more complex (polyvictimization of young parents). There are also big overlaps in prevention. Young people need education and practice to develop a healthy respect for others and boundaries, the ability to grant and understand consent, strong communication skills, and a network of supportive sexual health resources. Likewise, we need to address cultural trends that diminish sexual health in our communities: rape culture, toxic gender stereotypes, harassment and bullying, and stigma around sex and sexual health. Learn more about how to raise awareness.
So, April may not be named Sexual Health Awareness Month, but we’re happy to see so many working to raise awareness for individual components of sexual health. We also hope you’ll gear up for Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month in May.
If you feel a little over-aware, take a minute to celebrate National Humor Month.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released national teen pregnancy numbers through 2009. The data shows a remarkable 44% decline in teen pregnancy between 1990 and 2009. That’s great news!
Here’s even better news:
North Carolina – a historically disadvantaged state on many public health markers – outpaced the nation by declining 47% during the same period. What’s more, North Carolina continued the trend by declining an additional 30% between 2009 and 2012. (NC teen pregnancy data is available through 2012, while national data is only available through 2009.)
Unfortunately - at least for us data nerds - there’s not a great way to compare North Carolina and national data beyond looking at the rate of progress. The North Carolina State Center for Health Statistics is one of the best state data centers in the country. Their data, however, does not include an estimate of early miscarriages like the CDC does, making any comparison between state and national data an apples-and-oranges task.
Keep up the great work!
Last night, my daughter and I had her first talk. It was about "beebs".
99% of adult women in America have used birth control at some point in their lives.Let's cut through the faux "controversy" and give credit where it's due.
Note: In May 2015, the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina (APPCNC) became SHIFT NC (Sexual Health Initiaives For Teens).
APPCNC's use of digital technology to prevent unplanned pregnancies has been featured in the November 2013 edition of Contraceptive Technology Update. Contraceptive Technology Update is considered the gold standard source of information on contraceptive and sexual health care in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology.
The article - Technology holds the key — Help young women pick prevention options - highlights two APPCNC initiatives: the BrdsNBz Text Line System and The Playbook, our pilot project to connect sexually active 18-19-year olds with contraceptive services in Gaston County.
The November 2013 edition of Contraceptive Technology Update also provides a summary on the latest work in the field, including:
- Why providers need to make contraceptive effectiveness a No. 1 priority (featuring new survey data by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy!);
- How to improve HPV vaccine uptake in young men;
- STI risks to young people; and
- Why effectiveness numbers should matter to clinicians
On Monday, we very proudly released North Carolina’s latest teen pregnancy rates, showing a 10% decline in 2012. Along with the new data release, we have constructed new county data sheets that provide more information than ever before – all so you can find new, effective ways to address adolescent health.
Teen Pregnancy Rates
The number of teen pregnancies per 1,000 15-19 year old girls – the teen pregnancy rate – is available so you can perform an apples-to-apples comparison no matter where you live. Rates are provided for all girls, as well as by age and race/ethnicity.
For communications purposes, you can easily translate your rate to a percentage by moving a decimal point. For example, a rate of 40.0 per 1,000 15-19 year old girls means that 4% of girls got pregnant.
New! Age Data
For the first time ever, we are providing teen pregnancy information for three different age categories: 15-19 (your overall teen pregnancy rate), 15-17, and 18-19.
When we talk about “teen pregnancy”, we are talking about all girls ages 15-19. So why include the age breakdown? To give you more tools to address teen pregnancy!
Most counties have nearly eliminated pregnancies to younger teens – those targeted by more traditional interventions like school-based sex education and youth development programs. However, 71% of North Carolina teen pregnancies last year happen to an 18 or 19 year old, and research shows that the best way to help older teens avert unplanned pregnancies is by increasing birth control use.
The new age data provided gives you a powerful tool to help new partners – especially your community’s public and private medical providers – join your cause.
All counties with enough pregnancies to calculate a teen pregnancy rate are ranked. These rankings give a powerful snapshot of how your county is performing – in general. Keep in mind that your county’s rank may be largely impacted by what other counties did. For deeper analysis, look at rates and your change percentage.
Yesterday, Governor Pat McCrory signed SB132, the abortion education bill. The bill amends the state’s comprehensive sex education law to include information saying that abortion increases the risk for preterm birth. Specifically, the law requires students to learn:
"...about the preventable risks for preterm birth in subsequent pregnancies, including induced abortion, smoking, alcohol consumption, the use of illicit drugs, and inadequate prenatal care."
Although APPCNC doesn’t work on the issue of abortion, we worked hard to try to defeat this bill. It puts our state’s teachers and school administrators in the middle of one of our most contentious political debates, and it diverts attention away from important messages about safety, health, and the prevention of pregnancy.
So, what happens next?
According to the new law – which applies to public, private, home, and charter schools – the NC Department of Public Instruction and the state Division of Public Health have 60 days to create materials that schools can use to fulfill the new requirement.
These materials will still be required to meet the same standard as any other sex education materials used in North Carolina schools:
“Materials used in this instruction shall be age appropriate for use with students. Information conveyed during the instruction shall be objective and based upon scientific research that is peer reviewed and accepted by professionals and credentialed experts in the field of sexual health education”
The requirement that materials be objective, peer-reviewed, and accepted by sex education experts should provide some comfort. However, communities and parents should still be vigilant.
What You Can Do
Review the materials. North Carolina law requires schools to allow parents to review any sex education materials. Typically, a parent can go review a copy in the school’s media center.
Talk to your own children. School-based sex education is an important supplement to parent-child communications, not a replacement for it. Take the opportunity to share your family’s view on the topic, and let your child know that he or she can come to you with questions.
Ask who will present information on abortion. Guest speakers and community partnerships can strengthen sex education – for example, a rape crisis center can provide powerful information on healthy relationships and interpersonal violence. However, make sure your child is not being exposed to outside speakers with a specific agenda that could undermine safe, medically accurate sex education. (Here is an example of what we mean.)
Be kind to your teachers and school administrators. We know that a) the fear of controversy is one of the biggest barriers to sex education; and b) the bill places schools in the middle of one of our nation’s most contentious political battles. Recognize that school staff are being placed in an uncomfortable position. If you need to raise concerns, please be kind and make it clear that your goal is to make sex education safe, helpful, and medically accurate.
Opt Out. North Carolina law also gives parents the ability to opt out of any portion of reproductive health and safety education. If the materials are something you don’t want your child learning, you can opt them out. (Check with your school system on its process for opting out.)
Stay tuned. We will keep you posted as this new law is implemented so you can know what’s happening on the ground in North Carolina schools.
NYC's teen pregnancy ad campaign is being slammed by critics. How did they get it so wrong?