Arkansas is one of a few states that still has no legal mandate for sex education, even with the ever-increasing number of people with sexually transmitted diseases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that there were over two million cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia cases in 2018.
The state ranks near the top for teen pregnancy and STDs. Since 2014, there has been a 60 percent increase in gonorrhea cases (around 7,300). There are 17,000 cases of chlamydia (13 percent increase) and 964 cases of syphilis (an increase of 147 percent).
Family Council Founder and President Jerry Cox said there was no reason for the state to get involved in how schools tackle sex education. He said it should be up to local school districts to decide how their program fits into their faith values.
The philosophy and values Family Council, a religious advocacy group, has isn’t something every Arkansan agrees with.
According to Cox, the solution to the STD crisis comes down to risk avoidance programs rather than abstinence.
Planned Parenthood of the Great Plains has taken no official stance on whether or not Arkansas should have sex education in the classroom. Gloria Pedro, with Planned Parenthood Arkansas, said it’s not their point to determine what should be taught in schools.
Pedro said people do have various ways in which to learn about sex, sexually transmitted disease and STD prevention – be it at school or somewhere else. She said Planned Parenthood always wants to provide information to patients and advocate for what’s best for them and their bodies.
Arkansas schools that do opt-in to teach sexual health are taught to highlight the importance of abstinence.
Conway School District has come up with a concrete answer to teaching sex education. According to the district, students are taught about sexually transmitted diseases in their health class, which is a required course for every high school student. A school spokesperson said it follows the recommended state guidelines, as noted by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (formerly, the Arkansas Department of Education).
There has been legislation introduced previously to create a broad health education course to address STDs and sex education but without success.
The Arkansas Department of Health agrees there is a societal need to address STDs in schools to keep the spread of these diseases from increasing.
ADH Medical Director of Infectious Diseases Naveen Patil said parents need to talk to their kids while doctors need to talk to their patients and screen them for STDs. Society, as a whole, needs to be more open to the situation.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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