Taxpayer-funded classes teach safe sex in effort to avoid - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Taxpayer-funded classes teach safe sex in effort to avoid teen pregnancies

(WMC-TV) - Sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancies. Millions of dollars are being spent to battle both of these in the Mid-South. The question is ... is it working?

When it comes to teenagers and what they think they know about sex, Jeremy Sanders has heard it all. Sanders is a program director of Le Bonheur Children's Hospital Be Proud! Be Responsible! health course. It is a five-year, CDC-approved, $5 million taxpayer funded class that teaches kids about sex and consequences.

The program started three years ago in Memphis zip codes with the highest rates of teen pregnancy and STDs: 38107, 38127, and 38128.

The two week program reaches 2,500 students each year. Sanders says it is working.

"That's how we know that this thing is receeding, because we're not seeing these pregnant girls in class now," he said.

Sanders says the pregnancy rate at Northside High School dropped 96 percent during the 2011-2012 school year. So how does Sanders know whether that decrease is a result of the program?

"I don't know for a fact how many were pregnant at each of these schools and how many did not get pregnant," he said. "We haven't seen as many pregnancies as we've seen in the past."

The Action News 5 Investigators have not been able to verify that report, nor have they seen any hard data to suggest a drop in pregnancy rates at other schools involved in the program, such as Cordova High School, Manassas High School, Frayser High School, and others.

What can be measured is a participant's knowledge about safe sex before and after the program.

"Basically what I knew, you had sex to have a baby," said 14-year-old program participant Donald Holmes. "I don't know about STDs, AIDS, HIV, I didn't know anything about that."

Holmes says without the class, who knows what he might be facing now.

"I'm not saying I would go around having sex with everybody, but I might have gotten into that situation just doing what I knew how to do, and end up catching something or end up having a baby," he said. "The more you know, the more cautious you'll be. The more safe you'll be."

And that, Sanders says, is the point.

"We put the burden of responsibility on them. The only person who is going to be responsible for you, is you," said Sanders.

The grant that funds Be Proud! Be Responsible! expires in two years, at which time Le Bonheur Children's Hospital plans to reapply for more grant money.

And though it is not required by the government, Le Bonheur keeps in contact with teenagers who go through the program long after the course ends.

Tests show participants' overall knowledge about safe sex increased 91percent.

The program will expand to Tunica County next year.

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