1800s- pamphlets about venereal diseases, overall good hygiene, and the evils of prostitution and masturbation were widely distributed outside of schools.
1913- Chicago attempts to formally introduce sex-ed into their school systems. The Catholic Church helps shut it down.
1914- The American Hygiene Association was founded to teach soldiers about sexual hygiene throughout the war. They would later be involved in creating school curriculums.
1916– Planned Parenthood is founded in New York.
1919- A report from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau was released that suggested soldiers would have been better off if they had received sex instruction in school.
1920s– There is a resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools.
Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality.
1930s- the U.S. Office of Education began to publish materials and train teachers.
1964- The medical director at Planned Parenthood, Mary Calderone, founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) in part to challenge the American Social Hygiene Association.
1968- A pamphlet called “Is the School House the Proper Place to Teach Raw Sex?” is widely distributed by Gordon Drake and James Hargis framing sex ed as a way to indoctrinate children into communism. Thus began the scary rhetoric that sex-ed was teaching students to be homosexuals and that teachers were having sex in front of students. (7)
1980s- The AIDS epidemic takes hold. Religious groups use this public health crisis to push their own agenda and convince school board members and legislative officials that abstinence-only sex education was the only way to keep kids “safe.”
1981- President Regan signed the Adolescent Family Life Act (aka the “Chastity Law” –yikes!). This law allowed federal funding to go to abstinence-only programming. And abstinence-only sexuality education (AOSE) and abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) programming became the norm in the US.
2004: Study is published showing the harms of abstinence-only-until-marriage (AOUM) programs and the importance of investing in comprehensive sexuality education. There are plenty more studies that have been published since reaffirming the same results. (It’s possible there were studies earlier than this, but this was the earliest one we could find. Know of an earlier one? Please get in touch!)
2018: Under the Trump administration, Abstinence-only until marriage (AOUM) is rebranded to be Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) (1). More federal funding goes towards pushing these programs.
Since the “Chastity Law” or the Adolescent Family Planning Act gifted us with abstinence-only education in 1981, things in Arizona hasn’t changed much. Despite recent proposals, as of June 2019, the Arizona State Board of Education (ASBE) decided to keep its sex ed rules unchanged (1). Sex ed as well as teaching HIV/AIDS remains optional—if a district or charter school offers it, parents have the choice to opt their child into the program. The public is able to view what any district in the state of Arizona is teaching when it comes to sex ed since the districts who opt to teach it are required to keep everything public. Finally, their sex ed still relies on the 3 S’s: self-control, self-discipline, and sense of responsibility and ethics (1).
1970: A rise in teen pregnancy and the HIV/AIDS epidemic led to widespread support of implementing a sexual education system to be taught in schools throughout the country, but Arizona wasn’t convinced (2).
1997: The State Board of Education in Arizona founded the Health Education and Physical Education Standards, creating a framework for designing curricula that educators adhered to state-wide (5).
Decades of the same sexual education structure, following an abstinence and sex-after-marriage-only system.
May of 2019: The administrators of the Cave Creek district in Arizona attempted to change the age-old sex ed curriculum. They were chastised by parents and accused of being “invaded” by Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was never involved.
June of 2019: A proposal was made that “the teaching of abnormal, deviate, or unusual sex acts and practices” should not be prohibited. The state board ignored the proposal (1). More on this below 🙂 A press release from the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, Kathy Hoffman, can be found here.
In June 2019, Arizona Senator Martín Quezada attempted to have the State Board of Education amend the sex education rule, R7- 2-203. The rule requires that if sex ed is taught, the implementation of curricula must adhere to certain standards, i.e boys and girls must be separated from kindergarten through 8th grade. It also uses homophobic language (6). Senator Quezada explains the background of the rule in his Twitter thread. Though the Board of Education removed the offensive language, Quezada wanted to ensure that the sex ed curriculum was required to be “medically accurate.” Unfortunately, his request was denied. In his Twitter thread, Quezada also live-tweeted the meeting and quoted interesting points from the board (something about children identifying as cyborgs and medically accurate curriculum being untrustworthy…). It’s worth the read!
Just to give you a further taste of Arizona, the following pieces of legislation were proposed in December of 2016, one in the House and one in the Senate. Both failed.
- SB 1020: This bill attempted to: make parent opt-out letters more prevalent than parent permission letters (this makes the parent take the extra step to get their kid out of class, instead of get them in), as well as mandate medically accurate sexual education with the inclusion of contraceptive methods other than abstinance. Is that too much to ask?!
- HB 2410: Arizona’s very own “Healthy Youth Act” that never prospered. Intended to mandate sex ed in the state of Arizona, making sure that sexual educational materials were medically accurate, included info about HIV/AIDS, was age-appropriate, and inclusive.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
In Arizona, sex-ed is not required, meaning it’s optional for schools to teach it. HIV/AIDS instruction is also not required (4). Of those who do teach sex-ed, the LGBTQ+ spectrum isn’t required to be taught at all, though some districts allow a few lucky 6th graders to learn about bisexuality (1). It’s the state law that if a district or charter school intends on teaching a course in sex ed, they are obligated to contact and obtain written permission from the parents/guardians of every student. While this seems to be arbitrary, adding another barrier like having students sent home with paperwork, having their parents sign it, and then returning it in a timely manner can make a huge difference as far as accessibility goes.
Parents also have the option of “auditing” a sex ed cours like one would a college class, to determine if they want their child to learn the information provided by the school in the future. If sex ed is taught, it is also mandated to be taught with stress on abstinence-only sexual education, and educators aren’t mandated to include other methods of contraception like birth control and condoms.
Another not so great fact is that the material taught doesn’t have to be medically accurate, making it possible to let bias enter the classroom if an educator or district official has a particular point of view (e.g anti-abortion). On the bright side (maybe?), Arizona is one in 26 states that mandate curriculum must be age-appropriate (2).
What the kids are actually learning...
The Francis McClelland Institute conducted research on how many schools and school districts in Arizona actually teach sex-ed. Because it’s optional, it’s difficult to have an overall idea of what is getting taught, the content’s comprehensiveness, and if it’s even accurate.
Roughly, 31% of schools verified that they teach some form of sexual education in their classrooms (6). Once again, the school district determines the sex ed material that’s taught, if it is taught at all. The districts also determine all of the worksheets, books to be read, etc. But the system doesn’t make it easy on the district either. Yet, another barrier! When a school district elects to teach sex ed in the classroom, they first have to create an “Advisory Committee” to help decide on instruction materials. The advisory committee includes people within the community that are “representative of the district’s ethnic and racial makeup” (1).
We found it interesting that one particular district, Cave Creek Unified School District (same district mentioned earlier), says in their statement to pursue sexual education that the material they’re teaching students isn’t meant to “take the place of what is taught at home, but rather to supplement that which is taught at home.” (3) Hmmm?
Written by: Alex Shea
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) Altavena, Lily. “Sex Ed in Arizona: How Does It Work? What Are Schools Allowed to Teach?” azcentral. Arizona Republic, June 26, 2019. https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona-education/2019/06/26/arizona-sex-ed-state-board-meeting-public-schools-instruction/1560006001/.
(2) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(3) “Human Growth and Development. PDF,” January 20, 2019.
(4) “Arizona FY-18 Final. PDF,” n.d.
(5) “Introduction. PDF,” 2020.
(6) Day, J K, A Tanaka, and A Cherian. “Sexuality Education in Arizona Final Research. PDF.” Arizona, 2012.
(7) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.