A national report from the Population Institute gives Indiana a failing grade for reproductive rights. It measures many reproductive health categories, including access to contraception, insurance coverage and abortion restrictions. And in the prevention category, which includes sex education, Indiana received a zero.
Though teen pregnancy rates have dipped in Indiana, the report finds half of all pregnancies in the state are unintended.
Ryan Tucker has been teaching health at Lebanon High School in north central Indiana, for more than 10 years.
“You hear the phrase knowledge is power, information is power,” says Tucker. “So why not give them as much as we can and hope they can make more mature responsible decisions?”
According to the most recent Youth Risk Assessment Survey, 41 percent of Indiana teens are sexually active. But under current state standards, Tucker is not allowed to teach about contraception.
“We’re not allowed to design our lesson to talk about safe sex practice, but students are allowed to ask me questions, and I can give appropriate information for those questions,” Tucker says.
The federal government currently supports abstinence education, more commonly referred to now as sexual risk avoidance. It gives money to states that teach it. And schools in Indiana stay away from topics like safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases, except for HIV/AIDS.
There is a bill this session to change this. Sen. Jean Leising (R-Oldenburg) says it’s time for an update.
“Our Department of [Education] has not revised health curriculum academic standards since 2010, and for me that seems like light years away – in the way our society has changed,” Leising says.
A bill filed this session aims for a more comprehensive health education program that would be frank about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Leising thinks schools should give young adults this information.
“It’s wrong for us, when we have that medical data not to share it with young people and still express a conservative view,” says Leising. “I’m not advocating that kids do drugs and have sex, but, that, there are a lot of risks when you participate in that behavior.”
Some Indiana school districts supplement their sex education with help from nonprofits developing additional approaches to abstinence, sexual risk avoidance, education. Creating Positive Relationships is one of these organizations.
Director Karyn Mitchell says teen pregnancy is nothing new.
“You know 100 years ago we were talking about this,” says Mitchell. “A girl is less likely to graduate, more likely to live in poverty. We still haven’t figured out what to do with that.”
The program aims to give young people tools to have healthy relationships without sex.
“Studies have shown too that schools that pass out condoms see a higher percentage of kids who are sexually active,” Mitchell says.
Studies are actually conflicting on this issue, and there is some evidence that safer sex programs help to reduce sexually transmitted disease and teen pregnancy.
Health Care Education and Training Executive Director Abby Hunt works to promote reproductive health in Indiana. She says there are things that teens need to know about safe sex.
“They need to know, if they decide to become sexually active, how to not become pregnant or cause a pregnancy. So they need to know about contraception, how to access that,” says Hunt.
Hunt says common ground about health sexual education can be achieved.
“When you really get into communities and you’re willing to have an open conversation about this work, usually you can find a place where everybody agrees,” Hunt says.
And, for her part, Sen. Leising hopes everyone can agree the state needs to update its sex education curriculum.
“My whole thing is to try and keep them healthy, healthy for the rest of their life,” Leising says.
The bill has not had a hearing in the Senate.