History / Timeline
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. (10)
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. 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 Idaho…
Many states are still stuck in Reagan era sex ed philosophy. Idaho is one of them. The philosophy is to impose the religion-backed belief in abstaining from sex as long as possible, or until marriage. Unfortunately for those relying on this method, it has proven to be ineffective in protecting the youth of America from risky behavior but yet, some states seem to be stuck in their ways, even when the data proves this method is failing.
Idaho’s current sex ed law hasn’t been updated since 1970 (3). So as we’re sure you can imagine, the values outlined in this policy are in desperate need of a face-lift. But, as a state with at least 65% of the population practicing Christianity, you could say there has been some influence (1).
In 2018 a proposal was introduced trying to replace the church-related language in the legislation pertinent to sex ed (3). It doesn’t look like the proposal caught on.
Currently enacted is a policy, 33-1608, which outlines that the primary source of a student’s sexual education should take place in the home and church. If a school does adopt a Sex Ed and Family Life program, it is believed that these programs should:
- heavily emphasize the importance of a family structure socially and culturally
- give students a scientifically accurate understanding of sex and “its relation to the miracle of life.”
- portray an understanding of sex drive and the “necessity of controlling that drive-through self-discipline.”
- have a focus on helping the youth obtain “a background of ideals and standards and attitudes” that will benefit “him now and later when he chooses a mate and establishes his own family” (5).
In 2019, those who support comprehensive Sex Ed got a scare. Rep. Barbara Ehardt pushed a bill in pursuit of,”“parental involvement in our children’s sexual content,” HB-120 would have had to require parents to opt their children into any sex-ed courses offered at Idaho schools. At first glance, this may sound progressive, something along the lines of parents are required to provide their children with sex-ed. But, what it’s actually saying is that now parents would need to fill out paperwork for their child if they are going to be allowed to participate in their respective schools’ sex-ed program at all (6,8). So basically, just another barrier to access.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
At this time there is no law that mandates sex-ed be taught in Idaho schools (9). Based on the current enacted policy, whatever program schools do choose to provide, it must be “factual, medically accurate, and objective”(4). As stated above in the current legislation, Idaho operates on an “opt-out” policy for parents and guardians. In terms of sexuality, a report from 2018 states that only 36% of schools with sex-ed programs reported providing any relevant materials for those on the LGBTQ+ spectrum (4).
What the kids are actually learning...
If schools should choose to provide sex-ed, the current Department of Education’s standards for curriculum are abstinence-based and operate on the “consequences of sex,” starting in grade 6 at the earliest (4,7). The language used in the department’s current policy talks about relying heavily on the church, which goes hand in hand with the notion of self-discipline. Using words like “consequences” when referring to sex, possibly for the first notable time in some kids’ lives, may conveniently scare them into abstinence. The fear angle of sex-ed stops the educational conversation about this extremely normal and common human convention. Though the physiological information must be medically accurate, there is still no mention of comprehensive sexual education in any of the curricula or legislation.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Earlier in 2019, when Rep. Barbara Ehardt proposed the Opt-In Bill (33-1608) referenced above, there was a rise in activism from students opposing the bill and their right to sex ed. These students voicing their concerns and opinions played a key part in killing the bill in March of 2019. Clearly, the youth in Idaho know what they want and are finding their voice. Hopefully, they can roll with the momentum to create the changes they need if their state won’t speak for them (2).
Written by: Catherine Twomey
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “Adults in Idaho – Religion in America: U.S. Religious Data, Demographics, and Statistics.” Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project, May 11, 2015. https://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/state/idaho/.
(2) Brown, Catherine, and Abby Quirk. “Momentum Is Building to Modernize Sex Education.” Center for American Progress. Accessed December 2, 2019. https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/education-k-12/reports/2019/05/29/469886/momentum-building-modernize-sex-education/.
(3) Brown, Nathan. “Bills Would Change How Idaho Teens Are Taught Sex Ed, Ban Schools from Hiring Lobbyists.” idahostatesman. Idaho Statesman, January 29, 2018. https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/politics-government/state-politics/article197200899.html.
(4) “Idaho FY18 State Profile.” SIECUS. Accessed December 3, 2019. https://siecus.org/state_profile/idaho-fy18-state-profile/.
(5) “Idaho Legislature.” Idaho State Legislature. Accessed December 5, 2019. https://legislature.idaho.gov/statutesrules/idstat/title33/t33ch16/sect33-1608/.
(6) “Idaho Legislature.” Idaho State Legislature. Accessed December 2, 2019. https://legislature.idaho.gov/sessioninfo/2019/legislation/H0120/.
(7) “Idaho State Department of Education (SDE).” SDE. Accessed December 1, 2019. https://www.sde.idaho.gov/academic/shared/health/.
(8) IdahoEdNews.org, Clark Corbin. “Idaho House Passes Sex Ed Opt-in Bill.” Twin Falls Times-News, March 7, 2019. https://magicvalley.com/news/local/education/idaho-house-passes-sex-ed-opt-in-bill/article_fd34e53d-ea87-5f23-8d8a-b4af71a0d390.html.
(9) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(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.