medically accurate sex education
Current Status of Sex Education in Illinois
On August 16, 2013, Governor Pat Quinn signed into law HB 2675 which requires that if a school teaches sexual health education, the materials and instruction must be age-appropriate, medically accurate, and complete. The new sexual health education law will go into effect on January 1, 2014. This is a huge victory for Illinois youth!
Recent media reports about this new law have focused mainly on the requirement to teach about contraception. However, the law includes several important elements. Schools that teach sexual health education will have to make sure that all instruction and materials are:
Medically accurate which “means verified or supported by the weight of research conducted in compliance with accepted scientific methods and published in peer-reviewed journals, if applicable, or comprising information recognized as accurate, objective, and complete.”
Evidence-based or substantially incorporate elements of evidence-based programs. Evidence-based program “means a program for which systematic, empirical research or evaluation has provided evidence of effectiveness.”
Developmentally and age appropriate which means “suitable to particular ages or age groups of children and adolescents, based on the developing cognitive, emotional, and behavioral capacity typical for the age or age group.”
Complete which means “instruction on both abstinence and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS.”
Course material and instruction shall place substantial emphasis on both abstinence, including abstinence until marriage, and contraception for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among youth and shall stress that abstinence is the ensured method of avoiding unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and HIV/AIDS.
Much of the current law on sexual health education did not change:
- Schools can choose whether or not to teach sexual health education.
- The law applies to grades 6-12.
- Schools can still choose in which grades to teach sexual health education.
- There is no specifically required curriculum, materials, or classroom activities.
- Schools can choose what materials and curriculum to teach.
- No student is required to participate in a sexual health education class if the parents don’t want him/her to.
Lack of Evidence for Abstinence-Only Programs
Abstinence-only curricula require that teenagers only be educated about sex within the context of marriage. These programs generally prohibit any mention of family planning, contraception, or disease prevention. In 2004, the U.S. House of Representative’s Committee on Government Reform found that 80% of the most popular, federally-funded, abstinence-only programs contained incorrect or misleading information. This included basic scientific errors, misinformation about the accuracy of contraceptives, a misrepresentation about the risks of abortion, an inclusion of religious content into scientific information, and the promotion of stereotypical gender roles.
Extensive research over the past thirty years has demonstrated the ineffectiveness of abstinence-only programs, yet these programs continue to be endorsed by our policy makers. In fact, we’ve spent more than $1.5 billion on ineffective abstinence-only programs across the United States. To learn more about abstinence-only programs, click here.
Comprehensive Sex Education
What our young adults need is comprehensive sex education. This means a medically-accurate and age-appropriate curriculum that includes information about abstinence as well as information about condoms and contraceptives. There is a large amount of scientific evidence that provides support for the integration of comprehensive sex education into the required state curricula:
• According to a study in the American Journal of Public Health, the majority (86%) of the reduction in the teenage pregnancy rate in the last decade has been the result of improvements in contraceptive use. This includes an increase in the proportion of teenagers using a single method of contraception, an increase in the proportion of teenagers using multiple methods of contraception simultaneously, and a significant decline in nonuse of contraception. Furthermore, a mere 14% of this decline can be contributed to a decrease in sexual activity.
• The Surgeon General reports that sex education curricula that include abstinence, as well as condoms and contraceptives, have no effect on the initiation of sexual activity, and in some cases, have been linked to the delayed onset of sexual activity.
• According to the Guttmacher Institute, there is strong evidence that providing adolescents with information about contraceptives delays the onset of sexual intercourse, reduces their number of sexual partners, and increases contraceptive use during sexual activity.
• A study in the Journal of Adolescent Health found that young adults that received comprehensive sex education, rather than abstinence-only education, were 50% less likely to become pregnant during their teenage years.
This scientific evidence contends that comprehensive sex education helps young adults withstand pressures and promotes healthy, responsible and mutually protective relationships when they do become sexually active. Withholding this vital information from young adults ensures that uninformed adolescents become uninformed adults.
Providing teens and young people with the information they need to make responsible decisions about their sexual health is the common sense solution to reducing unintended teen pregnancy and STIs.