According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in 2016, there were 4,625 teenage births in Louisiana, and 80 of those women were under 18. As compared to the 212,062 teenage births in the United States.
Louisiana also is the third-worst state in terms of STIs, according to a medically reviewed article, U.S. States With High STD Rates Have One Thing In Common, with Alaska being the first and Vermont being the 50th.
Lafayette, specifically, is also struggling with high STI rates, mainly Hepatitis C, as stated by the Louisiana Department of Health.
“Reports of newly diagnosed chronic hepatitis C (HCV) in the Lafayette Region have increased in recent years mirroring statewide trends. In 2018, there were 639 chronic HCV cases reported in the Lafayette Region,” according to the official Louisiana hepatitis C update.
However, as of Oct. 9, more reports from the Louisiana Department of Health indicate rates of other STIs decreased.
“Louisiana’s case rates of primary and secondary syphilis, congenital syphilis and gonorrhea improved from 2017 to 2018, showing the Louisiana Department of Health’s efforts toward STD prevention are making a positive impact during a time when STD rates across the United States have been dramatically increasing,” stated the Department of Health.
Despite this, the state still ranks as one of the lowest in the United States.
“Louisiana was ranked #7 in the nation for primary and secondary syphilis case rates, declining from #3 in 2017; #3 in congenital syphilis, declining from #1 in 2017; and #5 in gonorrhea, declining from #3 in 2017. The state’s ranking for chlamydia, the fourth STD in the survey, remained unchanged at #2,” according to the Department of Health.
According to Sexual Health Education in Louisiana, a copy of the Louisiana law on sexual health, Louisiana does not require sex education, but does require an emphasis on abstinence.
“Louisiana does not require instruction in sexual health education at any grade level but does allow sexual health education to be taught in grades 7–12. Sexual health education must emphasize abstinence, but can also include other risk reduction methods, such as contraception and condoms,” the site quotes.
According to an article from Reuters, spending on abstinence-only education is not tied to fewer teen births, and abstinence increased the birth rate in conservative states such as Louisiana.
“For every $1.00 per pupil increase in funding for abstinence-only education, the teen birth rate rose by $0.30 per 1,000 in conservative states compared with moderate states,” the article explained.
Mundy Cook, University of Louisiana at Lafayette freshman and Lee High graduate, explained their sex education.
“In tenth grade you had a semester of health class, and I think we spent about two weeks talking about STDs and prevention,” Cook said. “Just kind of really basic knowledge. Mostly just talked about abstinence, that was the main topic.”
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette appears to have an overall goal in fixing the aforementioned rates.
The Student Health and Wellness Center said there are services that handle contraceptives in the form of the birth control pill and condoms on their website.
“Our women's health program requires you to have a current well-woman exam (within the last year),” the website reads. “Once you've had your exam, the practitioner will discuss your contraceptive options. If you are a good candidate for oral contraceptives (birth control pills), she will prescribe them to you.”
The website continues, “We offer an assessment and counseling along with condom samples. Condoms alone are not enough. Unless you understand your risks, you may still be putting your health in danger.”
The Health and Wellness Center offers screenings for STIs for a fee, but lists other places that may screen students at a lower cost.
“Screening is advised for all sexually active individuals. A consultation with one of our clinicians would give you the opportunity to discuss any specific concerns you may have,” the website reads.
Phoebe Hayes, Ph.D., the Director and Staff Physician at the Center, said education on STDs should be a priority for UL Lafayette.
“As a department of an institution of higher learning, in my opinion, educating students about their contraceptive options and ways to decrease their risk of both pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases is an important part of what we do at Student Health Services. Knowledge is a vital first step in the process of changing high risk behavior,” Hayes said.
The University also requires mandatory sexual assault training and has a strict policy on the subject.
“The University of Louisiana at Lafayette does not tolerate sexual assault or abuse such as rape, including acquaintance/date rape, or other forms of nonconsensual sexual activity,” Student Affairs’ website says. “These acts degrade the victims, our campus community, and society in general.
“While the University cannot control all the factors in society that lead to sexual assault and abuse, the University strives to create an environment that is free of acts of violence.”