Guilford’s sex ed unremarkable, study finds

by Amy Kingsley

Students in some North Carolina school districts receive inaccurate information from those charged with educating them about healthy sexual practices, according to a study by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice North Carolina Foundation.

NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina to survey the sex education curriculum in six counties that included rural and urban populations. Guilford County was one of the counties included in the initial report, which was released on July 26. Of those counties, researches found biased and inaccurate information in the curricula used by Cumberland and New Hanover Counties. The report’s release coincided with the NC Senate’s approval of a corrections bill that requires abstinence-first or abstinence-only curricula to include accurate information on the effectiveness and failure rates of contraceptives.

North Carolina adopted a statewide policy in 1995 mandating abstinence-only sexual education. School districts that want to teach comprehensive sexual education must hold a public hearing and present the proposed curriculum to the community. Only 14 of the state’s 117 school districts have held the hearings required to teach comprehensive sex education.

“In Wake County there was overwhelming support for comprehensive sex-ed,” said Melissa Reed, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice North Carolina. “But thirteen months after they held a public hearing, a new school board overturned the decision. So we’ve had limited success getting comprehensive sex-ed.”

About a third of the counties that teach abstinence-only or abstinence-first use the Choosing the Best series. Cumberland County, one of those included in the study, uses that curriculum. Reed contends that several of the statements in the textbooks are false, including overstatement of condom failure rates and reinforcement of the impression that prophylactics don’t protect against gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.

Numerous public health studies show that condom use decreases the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases. Their failure rate, however, is harder to pin down. The NARAL study emphasized the statistic that condoms fail only 2 to 3 percent of the time if used correctly. Abstinence advocates cite figures documenting failure rates in factual circumstances at between 10 and 30 percent.

Guilford County Schools use the state’s Healthy Living Education Standard Course of Study, which teaches the mandated abstinence-first curriculum. The foundation’s study found this curriculum to be unbiased and free from factual error.

Reed said that Guilford County Schools was one of several districts statewide where obtaining information for her report was difficult. Although schools officials sent her the titles, she said she was never sure which parts of the curriculum the sexual education teachers actually used.

“Guilford County was a little confusing,” she said.

Chad Campbell, a spokesman for Guilford County Schools, said the director for health services responded quickly to Reed’s request, which was initially sent to the wrong staff member.

In addition to the factual errors in Choosing the Best, the report also excerpted passages in which biased statements about gender were presented as fact. Cumberland County’s program also lists a litany of personal problems and mental health concerns that can be avoided by postponing sex until marriage, none of which are supported by scientific evidence.

New Hanover County School District, which features three types of sexual education – comprehensive, abstinence-only and none – uses Me, My World, My Future for students in the abstinence-only track. According to the study, that text uses discredited research that misstates the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV/AIDS and pregnancy. The curriculum also includes false information about the effect of chemical contraception and abortion on a woman’s future fertility.

Reed said that some of the counties that used inaccurate or minimal sexual education had high rates of sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy. This finding is supported by a study of North Carolina sexual education by Rebecca Bach published last spring in the journal Sociation. Her findings showed that although teen pregnancy has gone down across the board in the last ten years, school districts with more comprehensive sexual education showed a larger decline. North Carolina has the ninth highest rate of teen pregnancy in the nation.

To comment on this story, e-mail Amy Kingsley at