Our lack of comprehensive sexual health education in Louisiana is not working.

According to a new report produced by the 2013 House Concurrent Resolution 90 task force, in 2012:

  • Over 20,000 chlamydia cases in Louisiana were reported among youth 13-24, representing 73 percent of the total chlamydia infections reported.
  • Over 6,000 gonorrhea cases in Louisiana were reported among youth 13-24, representing 69 percent of the total gonorrhea infections reported.
  • One quarter of the new HIV infections in Louisiana reported were among youth 13-24.

Besides the poor outlook on STDs, Louisiana rates of teen birth are among the highest in the nation. As of 2010, Louisiana ranks No. 6 for teen (ages 15-19) birth rates. Over 60 percent of Louisiana pregnancies are unplanned. Louisiana presently does not collect any data on teen sexual behavior, birth control use or sexual violence, leaving a tremendous gap between what we know and what our youth are experiencing.

While Louisiana students are not required to take sexual education as part of their core classes, Louisiana public schools are able to implement sexual education courses but are state-mandated to teach abstinence-only curricula.

Abstinence-only education has long been proven to be ineffective at equipping our students with the sexual health information they need to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.

Rather than acknowledging that our teenagers are sexually active, abstinence-only programs insist that we bury our heads in the sand and leave our teenagers with incomplete information at best and misinformation at worst.

While these multiple health crises for Louisiana youth, and particularly our female teenagers, may seem like private family concerns, the health consequences for our youth inevitably cost the state financially.

Teenagers from low-income households depend on state resources to fund prenatal and postnatal care for pregnant girls, medicinal needs and other therapeutic interventions for sexually transmitted diseases.

Louisiana must take the sexual health of its students seriously. Moral pontificating about abstinence does not result in our teenagers delaying their first sexual experiences. Acknowledging this reality is the first step to ensuring that our students are equipped with the information they need to stay safe and develop healthy sexual attitudes and lives. It is our responsibility to help our students help themselves.

Carrie Wooten

director of research and public policy, Louisiana Progress

Baton Rouge