History, Timeline and Notable Legislation
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. (8)
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. (8)
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. (8)
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. (8)
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.
And now on to Colorado…
While many states follow a similar theme of let’s not address the quality of our sex-ed since the 80s, some states have surpassed the rest. Colorado is one of those states!
On May 31, 2019, Governor Jared Polis of Colorado signed House Bill 19-1032 into the state’s legislation, effectively making Colorado only one of nine states to mandate consent be a part of the state’s comprehensive sex education requirements. (WTF!?) This bill added to the previous sex education bill passed in 2013 making abstinence-only sex education no longer allowed. Additionally, state funding would become available to help those schools who wanted to add sex education, but were unable to in the past due to financial hardships. Heck yea! And what’s more? This bill continues to promote a sex education that is all-inclusive and talks about the relationships in the LBGTQIA community, making Colorado one of the more advanced states in America that offers a complete education to all.
Susan Lontine, one of the writers of HB19-1032 said that teaching consent and how it relates to healthy relationships and their safe haven laws was important to her because
“Adults have shown us that they don’t understand what ‘no’ means, so if we teach our children the correct tools on how to say ‘no’ studies show that they are better equip to handle situations where knowing their bodily autonomy and how their own boundaries work.”
Starting in 5th grade, students will begin to learn age-appropriate sex education, meaning that they will learn how their own bodies work as well as how relationships work with their peers. This education will promote youth understanding of sexuality as a natural part of human development and encourages communication with family and other trusted adults about related topics (3). Furthermore, this bill prohibits sexual education from promoting the following: endorsing religious ideology or doctrine, using shame-based or stigmatizing language, using gender norms or stereotypes and excluding the relational or sexual experiences of LGTBQIA individuals (4). Can we get a hallelujah?!
Though all these advances are excellent in providing the most medically accurate and all-inclusive approach to sex education than most of the country, Colorado is still unable to mandate that schools include this education into their high school curriculum. Susan Lontine explains,
“It’s because we’re a local control state, which means the schools are able to determine if they offer sex education or no education on sex at all”
She states that for real change, we need to focus on the federal level. At this time though, several school districts in the more rural parts of Colorado have applied for the state grants to have sex education offered in their districts, which is a point in the right direction for the youth in Colorado.
Colorado’s approach to sex education is one that many states should model. Whereas states utilizing abstinance-only education continue to have some of the highest teen pregnancy and STI rates, in 2017 the teen birth rate of unintended pregnancies dropped in Colorado by fifty percent. Why? Well, while we can’t say for certain it’s because of their sex education programs, what we do know is that we can thank long-acting reversible contraception (3). We also know that state-funded programs are offered throughout the state to help those living in poverty to obtain contraception. And, that students are actually allowed to learn about their contraceptive options in this state (if you can believe it, in many other states, contraception education isn’t allowed!) Not only were the unintended birth rates halved, but the abortion rates were halved as well. In the end, the use of long-acting reversible contraception has saved Colorado between $66.1-69.6 million dollars (4).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Okay, okay. If you’re thinking this sounds too good to be true, you’re right. While the laws around sex ed are certainly better than most places in the country, Colorado doesn’t require schools to provide sex-ed, HIV-ed, or any STD/STI prevention curriculum. This means that while if schools opt-in, the education is wayyyy more comprehensive and inclusive than in other states (thanks to bills like the one outlined above), schools can still opt-out, leaving their students with no education at all! Oh, and parents are also allowed to opt their kids out (5).
What the kids are actually learning
So we now know that some kids in Colorado are learning bupkis. But, for those attending schools that opt-in, here are some requirements.
They are required to learn about contraceptives including condoms and birth control pills. They are also required to learn about sexual orientation, and, according to the Human Rights Campaign, Colorado has laws to make sex-ed LGBT inclusive (6). As we’ve already learned, starting in 2019, consent must be part of the discussion, and if state-funding is received, according to the 2013 Colorado statute §25-44-102, the curriculum must also (8):
- Encourage parental involvement and family communication;
- Include instruction to help students develop skills for making responsible and healthy decisions about human sexuality, personal power, boundary setting, and resisting peer pressure
- Include a discussion of how alcohol and drug use impairs responsible and healthy decision making;
- Provide instruction on the health benefits and potential side effects of using contraceptives and barrier methods to prevent pregnancy
Written by: Ashley Eichinger
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) Kenney, Andrew. “How Colorado Reduced Teen Pregnancy by Half – and What Might Change Now.” Denverite. Denverite, September 28, 2018. https://denverite.com/2017/12/01/half-many-teenagers-getting-pregnant-since-colorado-made-long-term/.
(2) Ingalls, Jalyn. “Health Rankings: Teen Pregnancy Rates Decline, But Disparities Persist.” Colorado Health Institute. Colorado Health Institute, March 16, 2018. https://www.coloradohealthinstitute.org/blog/teen-pregnancy-rates-decline-disparities-persist.
(3) Yadira, Caraveo, Susan, Jennifer, James, Jeni, Arndt, et al. “The Voter’s Self Defense System.” Vote Smart. Colorado Legislature, May 31, 2019. https://votesmart.org/bill/26080/66331#.XcnDO6ozXbg.
(4) “Colorado’s Success with Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC).” Department of Public Health and Environment. Department of Public Health and Environment, November 5, 2019. https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/cfpi-report.
(4) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(5) Human Rights Campaign. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2019.
(6) “Sex in the States: Colorado.” Sex, etc. Rutgers University, 2019. https://sexetc.org/states/colorado/.
(7) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2019.
(8) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.