Birds, Bees and Dirty Chocolate?

Sex Education in the State of Mississippi



Sex-ed curriculums across the South have been called out for comparing sexually active students to chewing gum and dirty chocolate.

Public schools in Mississippi still operate under the amended Section 37-13-171 of the Mississippi Code of 1972. This code has a few strict requirements, including emphasis on abstinence as the “standard” and a ban on the demonstration of applying condoms and/or other contraceptives. A guardian must also “opt” their child into sex-education courses, rather than the courses being a requirement for all students. 

As a result, the Mississippi public school system neither offers students a comprehensive sex education course nor fosters a comfortable environment for sex-related discussions in the classroom. 

Abstinence as Ideal 

According to the Mississippi Code of 1972, an appropriate sex education curriculum, “[t]eaches the social, psychological and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity, and the likely negative psychological and physical effects of not abstaining.” 

Acceptable classes will also teach the “harmful consequences” pregnancy outside marriage may have on “the child, the child’s parents and society.” In these courses, abstinence is the only way to ensure said pregnancies do not happen. 

These classes inevitably confront pregnant teens with the idea that they have placed a burden on their community.

An abstinence-only school curriculum called Promoting Health Among Teens! (Abstinence Only) describes its educational strategy: “There is a strong emphasis on family and community, including how HIV, other STDs and teenage pregnancy affect various communities in which young people live. The importance of protecting one’s family and community is used as a motive to change individual behavior.” 

Simply put, Promoting Health’s abstinence-only curriculum accomplishes its “promotion” of teen health by reminding these children of all the ways getting pregnant before marriage might negatively impact the community at large. 

The overall message is that teens should choose abstinence for the benefit of others. It should be a decision they make for themselves. 

A Stigmatized Student Body

It should come as no surprise that such a curriculum might lead to feelings of shame among students. However, some anecdotes remain startling, like how a curriculum used by over 60 percent of Mississippi school districts compares non-virgins to “a dirty piece of chocolate.” Teachers are instructed to pass an unwrapped piece of chocolate around the class and have students “observe how dirty it became.”

Public health worker Marie Barnard, whose own sons were subjected to the exercise in 2014, told the Los Angeles Times, “They’re using the Peppermint Pattie to show that a girl is no longer clean or valuable after she’s had sex—that she’s been used. . . . That shouldn’t be the lesson we send kids about sex.”

I thought, ‘I am that piece of gum.’ Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.

— Emily Smart

Other southern states employ similar educational practices. Emily Smart, who is a kidnapping survivor, recalled one incident in Texas, where her class compared non-virgins to chewed gum. Smart spoke out on how such an education impacted her as a victim of rape. 

She reflects, “I remember in school one time, I had a teacher who was talking about abstinence. And she said, ‘Imagine you’re a stick of gum. When you engage in sex, that’s like getting chewed. And if you do that lots of times, you’re going to become an old piece of gum, and who is going to want you after that?’”

“I thought, ‘I am that piece of gum,’” Smart continues. “Nobody re-chews a piece of gum. You throw it away. And that’s how easy it is to feel you no longer have worth. Your life no longer has value.” 


Mississippi is allowing—requiring, in fact—significant damage to the mental health of its students. The state promotes a culture that places blame on impregnated minors and unmarried people for their pregnancy. Even in instances of rape. The curriculum also holds such individuals responsible for the “negative” implications said pregnancy will have on the community at large. 

In a state that teaches any kid who has had sex that they are like dirty, unwanted chocolate—but fails to teach those kids how to use a condom—the numbers speak of a self-fulfilling prophecy: In 2020, Mississippi ranked first in the nation for its rate of teen pregnancies. 

Clearly, something isn’t working.