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Pregnant in the Classroom:  Condom Demonstrations

By Annie Gilbertson | Published 13 Mar 2012 05:46pm | comments
Mississippi says no condom demonstrations, but does that mean no contraceptive sex ed? Photo by Time for Choice, Norway.

Mississippi state law prohibits condom demonstrations in classrooms.  This has temporarily barred many nationally-recognized sex education programs that include such demonstrations from Mississippi classrooms.  MPB's Southern Education Desk reporter, Annie Gilbertson, has more.

Planned Parenthood: "Next you carefully remove condom from package. Oh don't use your teeth.  Carefully."

This is a condom demonstration given by Planned Parenthood.

Planned Parenthood: "Next you pinch the tip and squeeze the air out.  Then you roll the condom on.” 

This particular demonstration was found on YouTube, but similar demonstrations happen in classrooms across the country. Condom application is routinely demonstrated by educators and health professionals working to promote family planning and reduce risk of HIV infection.  Still condom demonstrations are controversial in communities across the political spectrum.  Legislators in conservative Utah are currently considering banning them, but lawmakers in liberal New York City have also prohibited condom demonstrations in recent history.

In Mississippi, when sex education law was reviewed, condom demonstrations remained banned.  Scott Clements of the Mississippi Department of Education says the prohibition also forced the exclusion of many nationally-recognized sex education programs.

Clements:  It has been hard for some of the national venders to meet the Mississippi state law so far.  The state law is very specific about how you can discuss contraceptives.

Specifically, Mississippi law states that in no case shall any instruction program include a demonstration of how condoms or other contraceptives are applied. 

Jamie Holcomb Bardwell. Director of Programs of the Women's Fund, an advocacy group for women-centered policy, says the controversy lies less in the fact condom demonstrations are illegal and more because it denies access to sex education programs that have been proven effective.  Instead, she says the state has chosen programs without condom demonstrations that have no proven track record.

Bardwell: These two programs that have been accepted by the Department of Education are not evidence-based. And so here you have schools that are asked to absorb the cost of curriculum that has never been proven to change behavior.

The Department of Education's review council is still considering sex ed curricula so they say this is likely to change.   Many school districts have said they want sex ed that is proven to work.  But Carol Penick, also of the Women's Fund, says because the Department has yet to approve any sex ed programs that fit this criteria, these school districts are now at a disadvantage.

Penick: It is going to make it really hard for schools right now since they don’t know yet what they can and can’t use.  Because this is the time of year when most good school systems have already made schedules for next year; they’ve already chosen their teachers; they’ve already decided who is going to teach in which classroom.

Many school districts are holding out on a sex education decision, because the vast majority of research on Abstinence Only education programs shows those programs to be ineffective. 

Still, some communities find Abstinence Only to be their best option.  Tammy Borgias of the Center for Relationship Education, a provider of Abstinence Only education, says it’s unfair to claim Abstinence Only advocates want to deny sex education to students.

Borgias: I wish people would just take the time to understand us because we are for more things than we are against.   What we want to do is teach them certain constructs so they can make healthy decisions.

And there is data showing what those decisions are. But in a congressionally mandated study by the policy research group Mathematica, data showed the most promising, federally-funded Abstinence Only programs did not delay teens from having sex.   Still, Chris Trenholm, director of the Mathematica study, says it's important to point out that doesn't mean Mississippi's chosen programs are ineffective. 

Trenholm: So I think in terms of what we know about programs that are out there for which there isn’t research evidence. I think the answer is, it’s probably what you think. Which is we don’t know if they are effective or not.  But I wouldn’t want to say because we don’t know that that should somehow infer they are not effective.  I think that’s an important distinction.

While Trenholm believes Mississippi's approved sex education programs cannot be deemed ineffective, the Mississippi Department of Health will not fund them.  Again, Jamie Holcomb Bardwell of the Women's Fund.

Bardwell:  And the irony here is that if our Department of Education would simply approve an evidence-based curriculum, the Department of Health will pay for it.

So, Bardwell says this seemingly small condom demonstration criteria has so far denied free, evidence-based sex ed programs from schools.

Education officials have taken a lot of heat for this, but the Department of Education says there is still time to get these evidence-based programs in the game.  They’ve opened up another deadline to review sex ed curricula. At the end of this month, nationally-recognized, evidence-based sex ed providers are expected to resubmit, with condom demonstrations removed.

From the Southern Education Desk, for MPB News, I'm Annie Gilbertson.

This story appeared as part of  the series Pregnant In The Classroom.

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Mississippi says no condom demonstrations, but does that mean no contraceptive sex ed? Photo by Time for Choice, Norway.


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