Proposed Amendment of Comprehensive Health Education Act
South Carolina rates of sexual risk behavior, unplanned teenage pregnancies, the transmission of sexual infections, and forceful sexual engagement exceeds the national averages. Sexual risk behaviors encompass inconsistent condom use, early sexual debut, and multiple sexual partners. South Carolina comprises mostly African Americans, Latinos, rural, low income, questioning adolescents, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations that are disproportionally affected by higher incidences of sexually transmitted infections and higher exposure to HIV/AIDS. The high incidences of STIs and high-ranking sexual risk behaviors undermine the role of sexual health education policy that seeks to promote responsible sexual behavior and well-being among adolescents.
South Carolina legislators passed into law, the Comprehensive Health Education Act in 1988. This new law sought to empower the school boards and public schools to develop age-appropriate curriculum and academic standards to teach health education. Such standards include instructional physical activities on drug use, alcohol, tobacco, and sexual health. However, with time, legislators have identified the need to amend various clauses of the Comprehensive Health Education Act (CHEA) to include evidence-based and accurate medical data, empowered oversight of school district compliance with the law, and training and certification demands of instructors (Chin et al., 2012). The proposed amendment is expected to improve the quality of sexual health education despite the inability to develop strategies for comprehensive sexual health education and most importantly reduce the variations in sexual risks and teenage pregnancies that is evident in ethnic, geography, gender identity, disability and socioeconomic status.
Comprehensive Sexual Health Education
The World health Organization (WHO) describes sexual health as a state of physical, emotional, mental, ad social wellbeing in the context of sexuality (WHO, 2002). According to WHO a comprehensive sexual health education must be consistent with adolescent development and advocates for sexuality evidence-based approach opposed to the abstinence-based strategy. The comprehensive sexual health education, however, stresses less adoption of risk based approaches while emphasizing promotion of health, sexual well-being, empowerment, forming and sustaining healthy relationships, increasing access to sexual health resources, and clear illustration of the connection between sexual health and the social determinants of health.
Evidence from scientific research indicates that the comprehensive sexual health education approach can be effective to help teenagers develop required self-efficacy to help them maneuver and confront sexual situations. Besides, the approach prepares the young adults to form and manage healthier sexual relationships. Including lessons on life skills in the sexual health curriculum is necessary because it equips teenagers with critical thinking skills that are necessary to develop healthy behavior, appropriate communication, and improve decision-making. The adoption of sexual health curriculum in learning institutions follows the precedence set by state policies and programs that migrates from infamous abstinence-only model to more inclusive and scientifically proven strategies. The comprehensive sexual health education, by fact and results, is more effective in helping deterring teenagers from early onset to sexual activity, promoting the use of protection, reducing the number of sexual partners that lead to the decrease of unplanned teenage pregnancy and STIs infection incidences.
South Carolina State is one of the thirty-six states that have institutionalized sex and HIV education in learning facilities. Although there are considerable variations among member states and school districts on the sexual health curricula and content, they are all focused on the same goal of improving sexual health and well-being among teenagers. The general provisions of state-level sex and HIV education comprise of scientifically researched and medically proven data that incorporates the age, cultural, religious, ethnic and social variations to provide valuable information on sexual orientation, life skills such as healthy decision making, abstinence, and advocating for refraining from sexual activity until marriage.
In South Carolina, these requirements have not been achieved to completion. However, the proposed inclusion of medically sound information in CHEA is promising to alleviate the dire situation in learning institutions. The youth population in South Carolina registers higher incidences of sexually transmitted infections, sexual risk behavior, and teenage pregnancies compared to other states that have adopted and enacted policies of a comprehensive curriculum. The development of policy and programs to foster sexual health education must include culturally appropriate and unbiased content in the curriculum.
Introducing a culturally appropriate curriculum has the potential of minimizing the discrepancies that emerge along ethnicity, geographical boundaries, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic statuses. Some exclusionary and stigmatizing elements in the current and proposed amendments must also be factored to realize tangible results in learning institutions. For instance, the current system is faulty in that it does not provide for instructional units and discussions around sexual lifestyles that occur in heterosexual relationships, which are overly emphasized in the context of STIs transmission (Delamater, Wagstaff & Havens, 2000). It has also been noted that instructors and the sex education curricula are likely to openly or unconsciously stigmatize populations by emphasizing racial, class, or gender stereotypes.
Introducing culturally ground preventive programs take into consideration the responses and attitudes towards reproductive and sexual health education that highlight the interplay of social, economic, and cultural backgrounds. Scientific research has positively identifies that culturally appropriate behavioral intervention works to reduce STI incidences differences among teenagers. Moreover, a right-based curriculum is an equally important approach to foster responsible and healthy sexual education. The right-based approach emphasizes for sexuality, gender, and human rights and fosters knowledge about sexual health services, sexual health, sexual relationships rights as well as improving self-efficacy that is necessary when negotiating high-risk situations. A culturally appropriate curriculum introduces statewide policies and programs that are applicable for all groups of learners irrespective of their backgrounds, which is a crucial contribution in minimizing the disparities in marginalized, less-fortunate, and isolated adolescents in the South Carolina society.
Chin, H., Sipe, T., Elder, R., Mercer, S., Chattopadhyay, S., & Jacob, V. et al. (2012). The Effectiveness of Group-Based Comprehensive Risk-Reduction and Abstinence Education Interventions to Prevent or Reduce the Risk of Adolescent Pregnancy, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and Sexually Transmitted Infections. American Journal Of Preventive Medicine, 42(3), 272-294. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2011.11.006
Delamater, J., Wagstaff, D., & Havens, K. (2000). The Impact of a Culturally Appropriate STD/AIDS Education Intervention on Black Male Adolescents’ Sexual and Condom Use Behavior. Health Education & Behavior, 27(4), 454-470. doi: 10.1177/109019810002700408
World Health Organization. Defining sexual health: report of a technical consultation on sexual health, 28–31 January 2002, Geneva. Available at: http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/sexual_health/defining_sexual_health.pdf. Accessed May 2, 2019