New Report: Memphis Teens Desperate for Sex Education; Parents, Teachers Lack Resources, Guidance to Protect Teens’ Health

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 25, 2015

Contact
Cherisse Scott
cherisse@sisterreach.org
901.310.5488

New Report: Memphis Teens Desperate for Sex Education;
Parents, Teachers Lack Resources, Guidance to Protect Teens’ Health

Focus groups reveal that 90 percent of Memphis teens don’t believe they have the information they need to be fully educated about sexuality, and parents overwhelmingly feel uncomfortable discussing it

MEMPHIS, TN — Memphis teens overwhelmingly said they don’t believe they have been given all of the information they need to be fully educated about their bodies or sexual choices, and parents and teachers are unprepared to provide it, according to a new report by local reproductive justice organization, SisterReach.

Our Voices and Experiences Matter” examines the results of a series of focus groups on sexual and reproductive health education with youth, parents and teachers working and living in marginalized communities in Memphis. The report predominantly features the voices of African-Americans, who represent the majority population in the city and who face the highest rates of health disparities in Tennessee.

“We’re failing our young people by leaving them unprepared to engage in safe and responsible sexual behaviors if and when they choose to engage in them,” said SisterReach Founder/CEO and report author Cherisse Scott. “Youth, parents and teachers have all made it abundantly clear that comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education is both urgently needed and desired.”

Tennessee state law mandates abstinence based education, now referred to as “sexual risk avoidance education,” which the Shelby County School Board has made available only by parental opt-in. No public school students in Memphis or Tennessee currently receive medically age-appropriate, comprehensive reproductive and sexual health education as part of their curriculum.

The report documents sexual health outcomes in Memphis related to Tennessee’s abstinence-only policy, including high rates of teen sexual activity and pregnancy, and makes policy recommendations to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes in Memphis and Shelby County.

Among the study’s findings:

  • Ninety percent of teens surveyed said they didn’t believe they had been given all of the information they needed to be fully educated about their bodies or sexual choices.
  • Teens’ absence of information led to misconceptions about their bodies and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Ninety percent of teens said they felt uncomfortable talking to their parents about sex.
  • Only 30 percent of parents indicated that they were comfortable talking about these topics with their children.
  • More than 70 percent of parents did not feel well-informed about their own reproductive health.
  • All of the teachers reported that they received no information from school administrators about the opt-in policy. Some teachers learned about the policy for the first time during the focus groups.

The report recommends that Shelby County repeal its restrictive opt-in policy and that Tennessee enact affirmative reproductive and sexual health measures to improve outcomes, particularly for the most vulnerable populations, including young people of color, young women and LGBTQIA youth.

“A comprehensive understanding of one’s own sexual and reproductive health is an invaluable tool for navigating relationships and ensuring healthy sexual behaviors throughout our lives,” said Scott. “Local and state teens deserve the same standard of sexuality education as teens in states with policies in accordance with medical expertise.”

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