In North Carolina, the rate of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is extremely high among African Americans. Specifically, African Americans make up slightly more than 20% of the entire population, but they represent more than half of the individuals living with HIV/AIDS in the state. North Carolina has tried to prevent the further growth of HIV/AIDS by implementing abstinence programs in the schools. But research has shown that these programs have done little to decrease the epidemic of HIV/AIDS and sexual risk taking among rural North Carolina youth. Despite the fact that many parents want their children to be educated about safe sexual practices, little has been done to accommodate these desires. Children and parents who are in communities at increased risk for HIV/AIDS believe that the current policies are actually adding to the dilemma. In an effort to gauge the community’s perception and belief about the current sexual abstinence programs, Stacey W. Lloyd, a research associate at RTI International in North Carolina, conducted focus groups that gathered opinions from a sample of 93 teens and parents, primarily African American, living in rural areas.
The results revealed that the majority of the participants believed that the existing abstinence before marriage program did little to help address the crisis of HIV/AIDS in the community. The youth reported that although they received some sex education in school, it was primarily focused on women’s issues and was offered as an elective course, which enabled many of the males to opt out. In addition, the limited safe sex education that was provided was only available in junior high school. Parents and students believe that sex education classes should be introduced as early as elementary school because many children become sexually active well before their teen years. The participants also expressed a desire to have classes taught by a medical or health expert, rather than a teacher from the school. They believed that learning from a professional in the medical field, or someone living with a sexually transmitted disease, would have more impact than learning from a staff educator. Lloyd said, “The perspectives presented in this study illustrate a broad disconnect between the needs of the African Americans in this community and the policies that affect their access to health education.” Overall, the findings clearly demonstrate the importance of considering the input of those being served when designing programs to address social and medical needs.
Lloyd, S. W., Ferguson, Y. O., Corbie-Smith, G., Ellison, A., Blumenthal, C., Council, B. J., et al. (2012). The role of public schools in HIV prevention: Perspectives from African Americans in the rural south. AIDS Education & Prevention 24.1, 41-53.
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