Sexual Health Roundup: Blacks, Latinos Support Contraception; Mississippi Chooses Failed Sex Ed Programs

New poll finds African Americans and Latinos support broad access to contraception and sex education; Mississippi school districts overwhelmingly choose failed sex ed.

Poll Shows Wide Support for Contraception and Sex Ed Among Blacks and Latinos

In this election year in which birth control is front and center and both side are courting the African-American and Hispanic vote, there is new information that suggests a majority of people in these communities support access to contraception and sex education.

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) surveyed a random sample of 810 non-Hispanic black American adults and 813 Hispanic American adults who are part of the Knowledge Networks’ KnowledgePanel. Interviews were conducted online in English among the black American sample and in both English and Spanish among the Hispanic sample. The poll focused on views about abortion and contraception, and also asked about sex education. Below are some of the findings.

Findings on Abortion

  • 67 percent of black Americans and 46 percent of Hispanic Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
  • 51 percent of black Americans believe having an abortion is morally wrong compared to 33 percent who believe it is morally acceptable while 61 percent of Hispanic Americans believe that having an abortion is morally wrong compared to 25 percent who believe it is morally acceptable.
  • 78 percent of black Americans and 60 percent of Hispanic Americans believe that it is possible to disagree with their religion’s teachings on abortion and still be considered a person of good standing in their faith.
  • 72 percent of both black Americans and Hispanic Americans say that the concept of “not judging other people” is important in shaping their views on abortion. Similarly, 69 percent of both black Americans and Hispanic Americans believe that the concept of “showing compassion for women in difficult circumstances” is very important in shaping their views on the issue of abortion. In addition, 70 percent of Hispanic Americans and 63 percent of black Americans say that the concept of “promoting personal responsibility” is a very important value shaping their views on the legality of abortion. 

Findings on Contraception

  • 81 percent of black Americans and 79 percent of Hispanic Americans believe contraception is morally acceptable and strongly support expanding access to it.
  • 61 percent of black Americans and 64 percent of Hispanic Americans say that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should be required to provide their employees with birth control at no cost.
  • 92 percent of black Americans and 85 percent of Hispanic Americans favor expanding birth control access for women who cannot afford it.
  • 59 percent of black Americans and 54 percent of Hispanic Americans believe that methods of birth control should be available to teenagers age 16 and older without parental approval.

Findings on Sex Education

  • 84 percent of black Americans and 79 percent of Hispanic Americans support comprehensive sex education in public schools.

Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, said these results show that:

Contrary to many troubling news narratives, we know that Latino/as have compassionate views on abortion…The bottom line is that most Latino/as believe a woman has the right to make personal, private decisions about abortion, without politicians interfering and that we shouldn’t judge someone who feels they’re not ready to be a parent.

Mississippi Schools Pick Their Sex Education; Majority Chose an Abstinence-Only Approach

A few months ago, I noted that Mississippi school districts were up against a deadline imposed by a new law that required districts to choose between an abstinence-only approach and a slightly broader abstinence-plus approach. Though both approaches seem to be grounded in a philosophy that believes abstinence-until-marriage is best, districts that choose “abstinence-plus” can also addresses additional topics such as “the nature, causes and effects of sexually transmitted diseases,” and other aspects of STD/HIV-prevention education.

Regardless of which approach a school districts takes, students cannot be taught that “abortion can be used to prevent the birth of a baby;” all classes must be separated by sex; and students must present a signed permission slip from their parents before they can attend. This referred to as an “opt-in” policy and is in place in very few states.

With these parameters in mind, 81 school districts chose the abstinence-only approach, 71 chose abstinence-plus, and three chose to take a split approach with abstinence-only programs for younger students and abstinence-plus for older grades. The state’s largest school district, DeSoto County, chose abstinence-only but the second-largest district, in the city of Jackson, chose abstinence-plus. Interestingly, the state Board of Education chose abstinence-plus for the four specialty schools it governs.

Mississippi consistently has the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates in the country and a 2011 study found that births to teen or preteen mothers cost the state $154.9 million in 2009. Despite this and the overwhelming evidence that abstinence-only programs are not effective, the state’s governor “has said repeatedly that he believes abstinence-only is the best approach to teaching young people about sex.”

And while that approach did win out, many schools did choose to take the broader approach. Jamie H. Bardwell, program director for the Women’s Fund, an advocacy group that supports more comprehensive sexuality education, said

We are pleased and excited that so many districts decided to go with abstinence-plus. It definitely shows a need and a desire for more than just abstinence-only. It reflects the reality that 76 percent of Mississippi 12th-graders have already had sex.

New Vaginal Ring May Protect Women from HIV

There is more potentially good news in the fight to prevent HIV. A vaginal ring designed to protect women against HIV infection is undergoing a large, multinational trial. The silicone ring is similar to the vaginal birth control ring, it is inserted into the vagina and sits near the cervix for a month after which time it is removed and replaced.  This ring releases “an experimental antiretroviral drug to prevent HIV infection.”

A number of health institutions, including the U.S. National Institutes of Health, are working together to test the ring on over 3,000 participants in five countries; Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.  In this blind study, women ages 18 to 45 who are not HIV infected will receive a vaginal ring –some with the antiretroviral drug and others with a placebo. All participants will also receive regular counseling on how to prevent HIV as well as HIV testing.    

Public health experts are excited about the possibility of the ring as it provides women with a method of prevention that, unlike condoms, they have control over.  The rings can even be used without their partner’s knowledge.

Results of the study are expected in 2015.