History + 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.
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. (15)
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. (15)
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. (15)
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 Connecticut…
Although sex education is technically not required in Connecticut, health education is (1,2, 3). The specific portion of Connecticut law pertaining to health, HIV, and sex ed is contained in Connecticut General Statutes, Ch. 164, Sec. 10-16(b)-(f) and 10-19 (2,3).
10-16b defines the content of in-school health education in Connecticut:
In the public schools the program of instruction offered shall include at least the following subject matter, as taught by legally qualified teachers…health and safety, including, but not limited to, human growth and development…disease prevention and cancer awareness, including, but not limited to, age and developmentally appropriate instruction in performing self-examinations for the purposes of screening for breast cancer and testicular cancer, community and consumer health, physical, mental and emotional health…(2)
10-16c, which came into effect in 1980, mandates the creation of “family life education” curriculum guides by Connecticut’s State Department of Education (2). In terms of content, the law states that:
The curriculum guides shall include, but not be limited to, information on developing a curriculum including family planning, human sexuality, parenting, nutrition and the emotional, physical, psychological, hygienic, economic and social aspects of family life, provided the curriculum guides shall not include information pertaining to abortion as an alternative to family planning” (2)
Although 10-16c mandates the creation of curriculum guides, it does not mean that Connecticut public schools are actually required to teach sex ed.
Connecticut has an “opt-out” sex ed policy: parents can provide a written notification that they would not like their children to receive sex ed and/or HIV/STD education (4).
Despite the state’s lack of a sex-ed requirement, SIECUS reports that most Connecticut students do receive sex ed. But what does that sex ed look like? Here’s what the data says:
- Course Content: 54.2% of CT high schools covered all 19 of the CDC’s Critical Sex Educations Topics in a required course (4).
- Abstinence: 95.% of CT high schools taught about the benefits of abstinence (4).
- Condoms & Contraceptives: 80% of CT high schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course. 92.9% of schools taught students about other contraceptive methods besides condoms in a required course (4).
- LGBTQ+: 80.4% of CT high schools taught students about sexual orientation, and 57.5% provided curricular information and resources for LGBTQ+ youth in a required course (4).
1980: As of September 1, 1980, the State Board of Education is mandated to create “family life education curriculum guides” for public schools (2). The curriculum was not to include information pertaining to abortion as an alternative to family planning” (2).
1989: CT public schools are now required to give students HIV/AIDS education. General sex ed is still not mandated (2).
2004: Speaking Out: Connecticut’s Parents & Other Adults Want Comprehensive Sex Education in Schools is published (5). This report is based on a telephone survey with 699 adult CT residents. It includes the following findings (5):
- 94% agree that “In the era of AIDS, young people need information and skills from sex education to protect their health and lives.”
- 94% of Catholics [surveyed] and 93% of all adults agree that, “Whether or not young people are sexually active, they should receive sex education so they have the information to make responsible choices.”
- 75% of all adults believe schools should teach about both abstinence and contraception.
- 91% of all adults support youth receiving sex education during high school.
- 79% of all adults support youth receiving sex education during junior high school
- 60% of all adults support school personnel making condoms and other birth control accessible to sexually active youth.
2005: According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), “Connecticut receives $982,484 in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in the Fiscal Year 2005 (6).”
2010: The Guttmacher Institute reports the following statistics for Connecticut:
- 4th lowest birthrate in the nation, with 20 births per 1,000 women* ages 15-19 (7).
- 52% of teen pregnancies (not including stillbirths and miscarriages) end in abortion (7).
2016: The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) reports that CT’s teen pregnancy rate is 29 per 1,000 females* ages 15-19. This is a 77% decrease from 1988 (8).
2017: The CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) reports the following findings among CT high-school students:
- 33% had ever had sexual intercourse
- 56% used a condom the last time they had sex
- 10% did not use any form of contraception the last time they had sex (9).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
As we learned earlier, the letter of the law dictates that sex ed isn’t technically required in Connecticut (though health and HIV education are), and parents can opt-out of having their kids take sex ed.
That said, in all the interviews I conducted with students and teachers, I did not find a single instance in which sex ed was not offered in school (this includes in private and parochial institutions).
What is clear: curricular specifics can vary from school to school.
First, we’ll take a look at what the Board of Ed’s curriculum guides suggest be taught in schools. Then we’ll look at how these curriculum guides are actually implemented in schools.
What the kids are actually learning
Examining Connecticut’s “family life education” curriculum guides provides us with insights as to the curricular framework for the state’s sex ed classes.
CT’s family life education curriculum guide is called Guidelines for the Sexual Health Education Component of Comprehensive Health Education, and according to the CT State Department of Education, it is meant to be “a companion document to the Healthy & Balanced Living Curriculum Framework and provides guidance to school districts when developing policies, programs, curriculum and instruction in sexual health education” (10).
Published in 2006, The Healthy & Balanced Curriculum Framework is the current required health curriculum in Connecticut public schools and covers “Comprehensive School Health Education” and “Comprehensive Physical Education” (11). A full copy of the curriculum framework is available here.
Here’s an overview of the eight different standards guiding Connecticut’s Sexual Health Education Curriculum Framework:
- “Content Standard 1: Core Concepts: Physical, Mental, Emotional and Social Growth and Development
- Content Standard 2: Accessing Health Information and Resources
- Content Standard 3: Self-Management of Healthy Behaviors
- Content Standard 4: Analyzing Internal and External Influences
- Content Standard 5: Communication Skills
- Content Standard 6: Decision-Making Skills
- Content Standard 7: Goal-Setting Skills
- Content Standard 8: Advocacy” (12)
In essence, Connecticut’s sex ed policy is to equip students with the background knowledge they need to make healthy decisions regarding their health and sexuality (both physical and emotional).
The Department of Ed’s sex-ed curriculum guide reveals materials we’d describe as “comprehensive” sex ed (i.e. STDs, contraception, etc.) presented alongside positive presentations of abstinence. There’s also an emphasis on personal responsibility. Sexual orientation and gender identity are also covered, though there’s no information about whether the material is LGBTQ-positive or not.
Let’s take a closer look at some of Connecticut’’s content standards (Note: This is just the highlights. If you’re interested in a deeper dive into The Constitution State’s sex-ed curriculum, click here)
CT’s Sex-Ed Curriculum Guide: The Highlights
By Grade 4, students will:
- Background info: Use proper names for body parts including gender specific anatomy. Describe the physical and emotional changes that occur during puberty
- HIV/STDs: Define the terms communicable (infectious) and non-communicable (non-infectious) diseases and identify ways to help prevent disease (e.g. HIV/AIDS)
By Grade 8, students will:
- Background Info: Describe male and female reproductive and sexual systems and how they work. Describe puberty and the process of human reproduction
- HIV/STDs: Discuss HIV/STD and hepatitis infections as it relates to higher risk behaviors, modes of transmission and prevention methods. Identify the methods of contraception and how they work
- Abstinence: Describe abstinence and its role in maintaining sexual health. Identify strategies that an individual could use to abstain or delay sexual intercourse. Discuss the importance of personal responsibility for sexual behavior, including abstinence and sexual and reproductive health
- Drugs/Alcohol: Analyze the influence of alcohol and other drugs on sexual behavior and sexual health
- Internet + Tech: Explain how sexual exploitation can occur on the internet, social media or other digital domain
- Consent: Demonstrate how to communicate clear expectations, boundaries, personal safety strategies and clear limits on sexual behaviors
By Grade 12, students will:
- “Anatomical info. Describe how the reproductive, endocrine, nervous and sexual systems work together. Analyze and evaluate medically accurate and reliable information about sexual health (e.g. internet and social media).
- STDs: Analyze the modes of transmission, prevention methods, signs and symptoms, testing and treatments for HIV/STD infections
- Resources: Analyze and evaluate service providers and resources for health care services related to sexual health
- LGBTQ+: Differentiate between biological sex, sexual orientation and gender identity
- Abstinence: Describe situations in which someone might choose to abstain from sexual activity after already engaging in the behavior, and assess the barriers that might be encountered in implementing this decision. Analyze and evaluate effective negotiation and refusal skills for avoiding higher risk sexual behaviors (e.g. maintaining abstinence, consistent use of contraceptives; discuss HIV/STD status)
- Teen pregnancy: Research and analyze the impact of teenage pregnancy and parenthood on society
- HIV/AIDS: Research and analyze the demographic and impact of HIV/AIDS on different populations and in different regions of the world. Examine the stereotypes and discrimination that exist and describe the impact this has on people living with HIV/AIDS and other communicable diseases
- Media, Society, + Peer Pressure: Analyze how internal and external influences affect sexual feelings, behavior, attitudes and decisions
- Drugs/Alcohol: Evaluate the influence of alcohol and other drugs on sexual behavior and sexual health
- Internet + Tech: Analyze the various forms of sexual exploitation via the internet, social media and other means and identify prevention/intervention strategies
- Consent: Analyze the effectiveness of communicating clear expectations, boundaries, personal safety strategies and clear limits on sexual behaviors” (12).
What students and teachers say: While the above curriculum guide provides us with helpful insights into Connecticut’s approach to sex ed, it’s also important to consider the real-life applications of these content standards. In order to gain real-world perspectives, I talked to people with first-hand exposure to Connecticut’s sex ed programs: students and teachers.
Jane (that’s her middle name, which she’s chosen to go by in order to preserve privacy), now 25, attended public schools where the sex-ed curriculum was folded into a required health class. Jane, who graduated from high school in 2014, said that the sex ed curriculum was introduced
“in 4th or 5th grade for the first class, then again in middle school. They were health classes [that] covered sex, drugs, smoking, [and] alcohol.”
Based on our conversations, it seems that the sex-ed curriculum at Jane’s school was comprehensive, not abstinence-based or “abstinence-plus.”
“We put a condom on a banana and talked about STDs,”
Jane also said her course included in-class demonstrations of multiple contraceptive methods.
“All that were available at the time, except for the shot, including internal condoms."
Jessica Brandon of Middletown, CT provided me with a different perspective on Connecticut sex-ed—that of a sex educator. Middletown (which is located, quite literally, smack-dab in the middle of The Constitution State) is home to Wesleyan University, where Brandon is currently a senior. Brandon co-leads Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness (ASHA), a student-run organization that brings sex-ed workshops to students attending Connecticut high schools.
Brandon, who serves as one of the organization’s two co-coordinators, said ASHA workshops reached 400 students at eight different area high schools last year. This year, she estimates they’ve reached 100-150 students so far, and they plan to teach at 6-8 different high schools.
According to Brandon, the aim of ASHA workshops is to not only supplement the sex-ed curriculum students are already getting school, but also to introduce important topics that might be glossed over (or skipped entirely) in regular high-school sex ed, such as pleasure and consent.
Although consent is part of Connecticut’s content standards for sex-ed (see the “consent” sections of the content standards), pleasure doesn’t usually factor into the curriculum. Brandon chalks up this up to
“a fear that sex signals a maturing process. A lot of people don’t want to admit that high schoolers are at that point...“[We ask ourselves,] where can we place a lesson about communication? Where can we really emphasize this point about boundaries when it comes to the sections [of the curriculum] that feel a little bit more dry, like going to get tested, or how to put on a condom, or birth control? Sexual health is intimately related—if not incredibly tied to—consent, power, and privilege. These questions of communication, boundaries, and assault—those feel like the water we swim in or the air we’re breathing.”
Brandon also believes that conversations about pleasure are an integral part of sex ed and allow for a more inclusive picture of sex to emerge. After all,
“...that’s what sex is for a lot of people—pleasure—and that’s what people should have the right to understand about it and the right to access...Talking about pleasure allows you to talk about masturbation, partnered sex, [and] things that reach more people than the kind of stereotypical understanding of what a health or anatomy class might do.”
According to Brandon, health-class sex ed can present an image of sex as
“something really heteronormative [and] binary, something that is only for people who are actually engaging in partnered sex, [or] something that’s really monogamous.”
ASHA workshops provide an alternative to the kinds of messaging (i.e. heteronormative/“the-only-sex-is-vaginal-sex”/monogamy-centric) kids get in school.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Beyond bringing sex-ed workshops to high schools in Middlesex and Harford Counties, ASHA is also interested in policy issues. One current topic of discussion among ASHA members—and the high schoolers to whom they teach workshops—is STI testing and confidentiality. Brandon says,
“We get a ton of questions in high schools about ‘Can I get tested without my parents knowing?’”
When it comes to STI testing and treatment in Connecticut, minors’ right to privacy is currently protected by state law. Under Connecticut’s General Statutes (Chapter 368e, Sec. 19a-216: “Examination or treatment of minor for sexually transmitted disease. Confidentiality. Liability for cost”, minors can be tested and treated for STIs without their parents finding out. And, thanks to recent developments (in July of 2019!), minors’ right to privacy also now includes HIV testing, treatment (including pre-exposure prophylaxis or PreP). (13).
But, minors are still responsible for footing the bill for these health services.
ASHA is currently examining how they can get insurance companies to pay for STI testing and treatment without a parent or guardian finding out. As it currently stands, if you are a dependent on someone else’s insurance plan, if you don’t pay out of pocket, the primary insurance holder will see that you used their insurance to pay for STI testing and/or treatment.
More resources for ya...
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England: PPSNE operates 18 health centers in CT and RI. The CT health centers include Bridgeport, Danbury, Danielson, Enfield, Hartford, Manchester, Meriden, New Haven, New London, Norwich, Old Saybrook, Stamford, Torrington, Waterbury, West Hartford, and Willimantic. For a complete list of CT health centers and directions, click here.
Adolescent Sexual Health Awareness (ASHA). Student-run organization that brings sex ed to CT high schools.
Written by: Lizzy Steiner
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. Guttmacher Institute, November 1, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(2) Prescribed courses of study, CT. Gen. Stat. § 164.10-16(b)-(f) (Connecticut General Statutes 2018)
(3) Prescribed courses of study, CT. Gen. Stat. § 164.10-19 (Connecticut General Statutes 2018)
(4) “State Profiles Fiscal Year 2018: Connecticut.” State Profiles Fiscal Year 2018: Connecticut. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, March 2019. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Connecticut-FY18-Final-1.pdf.
(5) “Speaking Out! Connecticut’s Parents and Other Adults Want Comprehensive Sex Education in Schools.” Speaking Out! Connecticut’s Parents and Other Adults Want Comprehensive Sex Education in Schools. Advocates for Youth, 2004. https://web.archive.org/web/20081008192439/https://advocatesforyouth.org/publications/speakingout.pdf.
(6) “Connecticut State Profile 2005.” Connecticut State Profile 2005. SIECUS, 2005. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Connecticut05.pdf.
(7) Kost, Kathryn, and Stanley Henshaw. “U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2010: National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity.” U.S. Teenage Pregnancies, Births and Abortions, 2010: National and State Trends by Age, Race and Ethnicity. Guttmacher Institute, May 2014. https://www.guttmacher.org/sites/default/files/report_pdf/ustptrends10.pdf.
(8) Office of Adolescent Health. “Connecticut Adolescent Reproductive Health Facts.” HHS.gov. US Department of Health and Human Services, March 27, 2019. https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/connecticut/index.html.
(9) “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System: Connecticut Results.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017. https://nccd.cdc.gov/YouthOnline/App/Results.aspx?LID=CT.
(10) “ Guidelines for the Sexual Health Education Component of Comprehensive Health Education.” Connecticut State Department of Education. CT.gov. Accessed December 2, 2019. https://portal.ct.gov/SDE/Publications/Sexual-Health-Education-Component-of-Comprehensive-Health-Education/.
(11) Healthy and Balanced Living Curriculum Framework: Comprehensive School Health Education Comprehensive Physical Education. Hartford, CT: Connecticut State Department of Education, 2006. https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/SDE/Health-Education/Exemplary-SHE/Standards/healthybalancedliving.pdf.
(12) “Sexual Health Education Curriculum Framework.” Connecticut State Department of Education. CT.gov. Accessed December 2, 2019. https://portal.ct.gov/SDE/Publications/Sexual-Health-Education-Component-of-Comprehensive-Health-Education/Sexual-Health-Education-Curriculum-Framework.
(13) Public Act No. 19-109: An Act Concerning the Prevention of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus, Connecticut General Statutes, § 19a-592 (passed July 1, 2019).
(14) “Connecticut SB977: 2019: General Assembly.” LegiScan. Accessed December 2, 2019. https://legiscan.com/CT/bill/SB00977/2019.
(15) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.