Mississippi has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. Leaders are beginning to use a new method to change this problem by changing communication patterns about sex.
Donyell Hollins in the town of Marks, for example, is enduring sleepless nights taking care of her infant daughter while trying to complete high school. She benefits from frank conversations about parenting, life goals, and contraception led by instructors from Delta Health Partners Healthy Start Initiative.
Instead of allowing Donyell to drop out, these conversations hope to stimulate conversations about links between poverty and teen pregnancy. Donyell hopes to use the power of these conversations to teach her infant daughter the lessons her mother never taught her.
Above National Average
The program has been run through Tougaloo College since 1999. It is also a symbol of things to come. For years, schools in Mississippi only had permission to talk about sex in terms of abstinence. A new state law will change that paradigm. It will bring the lessons Donyell is receiving to all teens. 55 out of every 1,000 births in Mississippi are to 15- to 19-year-old girls. This is far above the national average of 34.3, according to the most recent figures from the federal government’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Experts say Mississippi’s high teen pregnancy rate stems from a culture of silence around teen pregnancy. Teenage girls who became pregnant were expected to drop out of school and even leave town. Experts like Phillip Levine of Wellesley College and Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland, however, are challenging the idea that these teenagers must inevitably fall into poverty because of their pregnancy. They say the evidence does not show this has to be the case.
In these classrooms the teen mothers discuss this theory and discover they can still have ambitious goals. They learn there is no real reason they should give up on education simply because they have a child.
Is this an effective way to teach sex education? It might very well be. Teen sex is linked to a host of factors and they should be discussed jointly. For example, researchers report many teen girls see no chance of ever escaping poverty anyway, so the traditional stigma of poverty and pregnancy mean little to them. These conversations link empowerment with complete sex education, not simply abstinence. Utilizing both will help teens avoid unwanted pregnancies and move up out of poverty.
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