According to the California Department of Education (CDE), the evolution of California’s sexual education since 2005 has gone from a “primarily knowledge-based subject” to a “focused, skills-based subject” (1).
This evolution the CDE is referring to appeared from a simple survey (wild, right?). Result after result indicated the same response—while kids knew about the risks involved with sex, they had no idea how to prevent any of them. Though they memorized their materials, they didn’t know how any of that info applied to them and continued to engage in risky behavior.
Since the epiphany of the survey results, the state of California has implemented eight “overarching health content standards” for grades kindergarten through grade 12. These 8 standards that describe essential skills pertaining to healthy living include (1):
1. Essential Health Concepts
2. Analyze Health Influences
3. Access to Valid Health Information
4. Interpersonal Communication
5. Decision Making
6. Goal Setting
7. Practice Health-Enhancing Behavior
8. Health Promotion
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– resurgence of interest in getting sex-ed into schools. Between 20-40% of U.S. school systems had programs in social hygiene and sexuality. (10)
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. (10)
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. Andabstinence-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.
And now on to California…
California turns out to be one of the more progressive states when it comes to sex ed in the country. And recently, some parents have made the argument that California might be too progressive.
1989: California became one of the 23 states to mandate sexual education.
1992: California introduces Education Code “(ED) Section 51931(d)” which requires HIV/AIDs prevention education twice in a student’s K-12 education.
2005: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill (AB) 689 into law creating an addition to EC Section 51210.8, which set new healthy learning for the youth of California (1).
2016: Since the implementation of the Healthy Youth Act in 2016, California seems to be one of the more progressive states when it comes to the sexual education of youth. California remains a state that mandates both sexual education and HIV/AIDs education in its school districts.
In 2016, California introduced bill AB 517. This bill would have amended the State Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Education Act, which authorizes school districts to include sexual health education if their curriculum includes HIV/AIDS prevention education. Believe it or not, these are not the same thing— sexual health education generally only includes information about STIs!
As far as the bill is concerned, it stipulated that if a school district opted for a guest-speaker or outside consultant to educate on the topic, then written permission from the students’ guardians was required. And if permission wasn’t granted, then that student wouldn’t be able to participate (4). This legislation failed.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
As of today, sex ed is mandated in California. The curriculum must be “comprehensive “and touch on both abstinence as well as other methods of contraception and STIs (5). Comprehensive sex ed means that the information educators are providing in their lessons has to be respective of human rights and medically accurate (6). This may sound obvious, but actually many states are not required to offer “comprhensive” education. That’s right- that means they are not required to give medically accurate info!
In California, sex ed generally starts in grade seven, unless a school district chooses to teach it sooner. And even though California requires a comprehensive method of sex ed, the way in which individual school districts choose to integrate the curriculum, is up to the educators.
If you’re wondering what California’s Comprehensive Sex Ed actually includes, you’re not alone. Turns out, each state comes with its own policies when it comes to sex ed (hence the #allbodiesUSA project!) and to what information is deemed as medically accurate.
Here are a few of California’s content requirements:
LGBTQ+. Very inclusive of sexual orientation
Abstinence. Covers but doesn’t stress as the only option
Contraception. Covers the use of condoms and birth control
Healthy Relationships. Covers consent, personal boundaries, and refusal skills
If you’ve checked out any of the other states, you’ll see these requirements, while seemingly obvious, are actually EXTRAORDINARY!
What the kids are actually learning...
Overall, decisions about how to best teach the sex ed curriculum are left to teachers, the districts, and local education authorities (LEAs). Any parents uncomfortable with the content have the option to opt their student out by writing a letter to a teacher or school (7).
Unfortunately, we weren’t able to speak with any educators about the state’s Sex Ed curriculum. But, after some extensive research, we found some of the most relevant curriculum plans for grades K-12. It includes what we believe students are actually learning in California school districts (8). It’s def worth checking out! And if you’re an educator in California and want to add to this discussion, please get in touch!
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
As of 2018, 3 pieces of legislation were put into effect (9):
1. AB 1868 allows school districts to provide information in their sex ed curriculum regarding sharing sexually-explicit information through digital media, like sexting
2. AB 1861 places an emphasis on human trafficking.
3. AB 2601 extends the Healthy Youth Act to include charter schools, making a comprehensive sexual education mandatory.
Written by: Alex Shea
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) California Department of Education, California Department of Education § (2009). https://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/documents/healthstandmar08.pdf.
(2) “History Of Sex Education Timeline.” Timetoast, September 2, 1913. https://www.timetoast.com/timelines/history-of-sex-education–4.
(3) Hall, Kelli Stidham, Jessica McDermott Sales, Kelli A Komro, and John Santelli. “The State of Sex Education in the United States.” The Journal of adolescent health: official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2016. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5426905/.
(4) Blackman, Kate, and Samantha Scotti. “State Policies on Sex Education in Schools.” State Policies on Sex Education in Schools. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.
(5) “Comprehensive Sexuality Education.” United Nations Population Fund. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://www.unfpa.org/comprehensive-sexuality-education.
(6) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, November 1, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(7) Health Resources. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://www.fremont.k12.ca.us/healthresources.
(8) Tu, Christine. “Comprehensive Health, Puberty, and Sexuality Education.” Google Docs. Google. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1eTbia4xQo4a93JtJqbeq6R5LbmZ1IALURbId-AKAuko/edit.
(9) “The Complete FY 2018 State Profiles Comprise Individual State-Specific Documents along with Four Other Accompanying Documents. ,” n.d.
(10) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.