Thomas Howard: It’s time to have the talk


During a lesson in my Media Ethics class at Mississippi State, my professor explained to use the 4 G’s: God, Guns, Gays and Gynecology. Any article written on the 4 G’s will be wrong, she said. Not wrong factually, but wrong in the emotional reaction of the readers.

I enjoy reading the comments on articles pertaining to gun control, religion, LGBTQ rights and women’s rights, and I think my professor was onto something. It is in that spirit that I say we need to have a conversation about a difficult and often taboo subject.

We need to talk about sex.

Several weeks ago, the Centers for Disease Control announced rates of sexually transmitted diseases had hit a record high. Cases of gonorrhea, syphilis and chlamydia in 2018 rose 5 percent over the previous year, with 2.4 million infections reported.

In Mississippi, new HIV infections are disturbingly high at 17.4 cases per 100,000 people. In fact, in a 2018 report, the CDC named Jackson the fourth highest metropolitan area in the country for HIV infections.

If only for the public health benefit, we need to talk about sex.

Currently, Mississippi law allows school districts to select from a list of approved abstinence-only sex education curriculum, which, while helpful in placating the pro-sex ed parents while codifying the more conservative voters, and more importantly, campaign donors, sociological and medical studies have shown such programs are not nearly as effective as giving kids the straight facts and letting them make up their own minds.

I’m not a parent, and my lifestyle is such I probably won’t ever be a parent. I can’t fathom the embarrassment or awkwardness from having to talk to my child about sexuality, contraceptives or STDs. But I know it needs to be done.

Talking about sex, however, needs to go further than schools and teens. Sex has been a taboo subject for too long and avoiding talking about it creates risks too. It creates shame, shame creates fear and fear develops into inaction.

A person may feel too ashamed to go get tested for STDs, or may be afraid to tell their partner, which could then contribute to the spread of the infection. A college or high school student may not be comfortable discussing sex with their parents or doctor, leading them to not report an abusive situation.

Being raised in a Baptist household, talking about sex was just something we did not do. I understand, believe me, bringing up sex, STDs, even dating, can be awkward, uncomfortable and downright terrifying to even consider. But we still need to do it, and I refuse to accept there is no middle ground between total silence and contributing to the degradation of society.

We need to talk about sex to encourage people to get tested, to empower victims of abuse to seek help, to improve public health, reduce new infections, provide accurate, non-biased information, to educate.

If my professor was right, it’s going to make a lot of people mad, but it doesn’t change the facts. We need to talk about sex.

Howard is the managing editor of the Appeal. He can be reached at