Ah, yes, “The Talk.”
Every late elementary school/early middle school student’s worst nightmare and biggest reason to giggle. Sometimes the school separates you by gender. Sometimes you hear erupting laughter from the boy’s discussion room across the hall. But one thing is certain- the whole process is usually pretty uncomfortable for kids and adults alike.
Abstinence-only sex education (AOSE) began receiving federal funding in the 80s. Through ups and downs, more funding and less funding, ASOE has stuck through it all.
According to Guttmacher, as of December 2019, only 39 states mandate sex-ed and/or HIV-ed (27 mandate both, 2 mandate just sex-ed, and 10 mandate only HIV-ed). Most upsetting to hear, only 17 of all 50 states require medically accurate information (4). So, while times have changed in the U.S., sex-ed hasn’t by very much.
Policies vary by state, county, and school district, and it leads to a confusing process for young people, and a stumbling block of learning well into adulthood. Let’s see what Florida’s sex-ed has to offer.
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.
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 Florida…
2005: Florida received $2,521,581 in federal Title V (the abstinence-only-until-marriage grant) funding in Fiscal Year 2005 (6).
2006: Florida finds a 23% increase in gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis cases since 1997 (6).
2016: SB1056/HB859, “Florida Healthy Adolescent Act”, was introduced. This would have required each public school that offers sex ed to include comprehensive, medically accurate, factual information to students (2, 3). This initiative failed and, as a result, the sexual education program is still largely unregulated beyond being required in some way.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
In the state of Florida, sex ed is mandated, as is HIV Education. However, that information does not have to be medically accurate. So using anatomical terms for bodily parts? Absolutely not necessary. Plenty of “pet names” for penis and vagina being thrown around classrooms is unfortunately normal and makes the educators teaching this misleading curriculum believe that it’s more age-appropriate for children (4).
However, that’s about where the requirements for the sex-ed curriculum end for the sunshine state. There is no regulations around the curriculum being culturally appropriate or unbiased. Religious promotion is permitted.
There is no parental notice or consent needed for sex ed to be had in schools (4).
What the kids are actually learning
In many schools in Florida, sex education is a one-time event, usually an afternoon sometime in the fourth or fifth grade.
As curriculum varies from school to school, I’ll share my own experience as a native Floridian.
I went to a Catholic School that included the whole “gender separation” thing. We had 11 girls and 25 boys in our class. Most of the teachers at the school were women, so the boy’s talk was conducted by one of our two male teachers- a semi-closeted gay man who taught religion for grades 5-8. Needless to say, regardless of what he was trying to teach the boys, none of them were listening and they all made crude jokes during and following “the talk.”
On the other hand, our measly 11 girls got the joy of not one but FOUR teachers and administrators to accompany us in our pin-drop-silent room. A nun who was our principle, religion teacher, long-term 5th-grade substitute teacher, and an office staff person who also held an RN license, delivered our talk. It was all about how sex was a gift that we should wait to give someone until after marriage. It wasn’t about our bodies, what a period was, hormones, or anything that any of us found particularly useful in the long term. There was no mention of contraception or condoms, STIs, or safe sex. Just the idea that sex should wait and our virginity should be a prized gift to give our husbands.
The education myself and my classmates received did not use anatomically appropriate terms, discuss LGBTQIA+ people whatsoever, mention pleasure, masturbation, bodily exploration, or other bodily functions.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
In some schools, rather than calling the curriculum sexual education, they hold programs called Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP). These classes are also held at some aftercare facilities in an effort to bridge the learning gap that some students experience in sex ed at home or in school.
Teen pregnancy prevention for me was held in an aftercare program and was incredibly informative and welcoming. We talked about everyone’s bodies and their functions, the appropriate name for body parts as well as some slang words we might hear from classmates, and clarified what we were missing in or education otherwise. I have to say that, even though TPP definitely filled in some of those gaps, there was still plenty to be desired.
The curriculum was not LGBTQIA inclusive, and consent was never discussed as an inherent part of sexual activity. Essentially, there was still plenty of room for improvement despite this being a step up from the general school sex ed. One of the biggest wins to the TPP curriculum was its focus on safe sex. And I mean really safe- covering every form of contraception that you could imagine. Not just abstinence and condoms, but birth control pills, implants, IUDs, diaphragms, and emergency contraception. Open communication in TPP classrooms was valued, so every student felt heard and got their questions answered. There was an effort in these classes to bring real information to the students going through them- not just tell them to abstain from sex or else.
There are some useful programs in Florida for teen parents. The CYESIS program at Riverview High School in Sarasota is one such program (5). Formerly located at a community building near Suncoast Technical College, CYESIS moved to RHS when the campus was rebuilt in 2009. The re-design of the high school included an entire building for CYESIS mothers, located directly above a fully functioning and well-staffed daycare that was in the school. That way, teen parents could bring their child to school with them rather than worrying about the logistics and costs of daycare (5). .
(1) Blackman, Kate and Scotti, Samantha. “Why Is Sexual Education Taught in Schools?” Last updated March 21, 2019. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx
(2) Bullard, Soto, Thompson, et. al. “SB 1056: Education in Public Schools Concerning Human Sexuality.” Last updated 2019. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2016/1056
(3) Fullward, Berman, Bracy, et. al. “HB 859: Education in Public Schools Concerning Human Sexuality.” Last updated 2019. https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2016/859
(4) Guttmacher Institute. “Sex and HIV Education: State Laws and Policies”. Last updated December 1, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education
(5) Sarasota County Schools. “Teen Parent Program at Riverview High School and North Port High School.” Last updated 2019. https://www.sarasotacountyschools.net/Page/1354
(6) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2015. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/Florida05.pdf
(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.