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. (7)
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. (7)
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. (7)
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. (7)
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 Illinois…
Illinois is certainly on the somewhat progressive side of the “most states” statistic. They don’t mandate sex-ed, but when they do, it’s pretty comprehensive. As of 2013, schools that teach sex education are no longer required to emphasize that “abstinence is the expected norm” and are instead expected to teach both abstinence and contraception (3). And in 2019, a bill passed that would require all sex-ed to teach consent as well. There’s hope!
HB3550 : In August of 2019, Governor Pritzker in Illinois signed House Bill 3550. The new law will make sure that the sex-education curriculum in Illinois includes age-appropriate lessons on consent. The law will take effect on January 1, 2020, and the curriculum will cover consent in various angles including (4):
The sex education discussion will cover consent from numerous angles, including:
- Consent to one sexual activity does not cover other sex acts.
- A person’s manner of dress does not constitute sexual consent.
- Past consent does not provide for future consent.
- Consent can be withdrawn at any time. A reminder that “no means, no” anytime and all the time.
105 ILCS 5/27-9.1: This bill that focuses on medical accuracy was introduced in 2019 as well. If an Illinois school district does provide sex-ed, the curricula must be developmentally and age-appropriate, medically accurate, evidence-based, and complete. Comprehensive sex-ed for grades 6-12 include instruction on abstinence and contraception to help prevent pregnancy and STDs. This course material must also be evidence-based. The state has to make six sex-ed resources available to the public, and parents are allowed to opt-out (5).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
The state of Illinois doesn’t mandate sex-ed, though it does mandate HIV education. When sex-ed is taught, Illinois takes a more comprehensive approach. As of 2013, teachers of sex-ed no longer have to say that abstinence is the norm, and they are expected to teach about contraceptives alongside abstinence (3). This change tends to happen by taking an angle of wanting to prevent pregnancy and STIs or HIV by reducing the risks any way possible. However, the content is not LGBTQ inclusive, and NPR Illinois reported that the law states that
“all course material must teach and honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage (2).”
Also, parents have the ability to opt their child out of these courses.
What the kids are actually learning
The Illinois Critical Health Problems and Comprehensive Health Education Act states that the following topics must be addressed in all elementary and secondary schools (3):
- Human ecology and health
- Human growth and development;
- The emotional, psychological, physiological, hygienic, and social responsibilities of family life, including sexual abstinence until marriage; and
- Prevention and control of disease, including instruction in grades 6 through 12 on the prevention, transmission, and spread of HIV/AIDS.
According to the Sexual Information and Education Council of the US, all Illinois courses that include sexual intercourse has to address the hazards of having sex and the failure rates of condoms (3). They also have to cover statutory rape but in the framework of when “males can’t have sexual relations with females” who aren’t 18 yet (3).
Courses also must cover responsible parenting, and follow the guidelines of family life courses. These courses are created to encourage the “wholesome and comprehensive” understanding of all parts of family life including emotional, psychological, hygienic, and socially responsible aspects. Therefore, the alternatives to abortion must be taught as well (3).
Thanks to the new legislation mentioned above, there will be amendments made to the requirements.
Who comes up with all of this? The Illinois Superintendent of Education. According to the state laws, the Superintendent of Education is responsible for creating the curriculum, getting to the school districts, and measuring how well it works (3).
If you’re looking for the voice of a real student, you’ve come to the right place. In an NPR Illinois article last year, one student, Lily Fergeson, talked about her experiences in an Illinois public school (2). As the time, Ferguson was a 17-year-old senior, and reflected on her middle school by saying her
“eighth-grade sex-ed teacher made sure to include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender identities as part of their curriculum (2).”
However, once she got into high school, Ferguson felt that sex-ed wasn’t prioritized, especially an LGBTQ inclusive version of it. Because of this, Ferguson is a member of Illinois Safe Schools Alliance’s youth committee (a state group that promotes the health and safety of LGBTQ youth) (2).
When asked about rallying for better sex-ed, Ferguson said,
“I think more students pushing for more comprehensive sex ed can be helpful because if students want something enough, schools have to listen to us (2).”
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
There are several support groups and platforms for youth to engage in sexual education amongst their peers. “ICAH” (Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health) and Between Friends offer safe spaces for conversation, workshops, and tools to promote healthy relationships.
Also, the Illinois Safe Schools Alliance is a statewide group that promotes the health and safety of LGBT+ youth in Illinois. They even have a youth committee so students can get involved too.
(1) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(2) Gaines, Lee V. “Illinois Sex Ed Law Requires ‘Honor And Respect For Monogamous Heterosexual Marriage’.” NPR Illinois. National Public Radio, October 31, 2018. https://www.nprillinois.org/post/illinois-sex-ed-law-requires-honor-and-respect-monogamous-heterosexual-marriage#stream/0.
(3) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2018.
(4) WIFR Newsroom. “New Law Requires Illinois Schools to Teach Consent in Sex Ed Classes.” 23 WIFR. WIFR, August 29, 2019.
(5) Blackman, Kate, and Samantha Scotti. “Why Is Sexual Education Taught in Schools?” State Policies on Sex Education in Schools. National Conference of State Legislatures, March 21, 2019. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.
(6) Smith, Tony. “Illinois State Board of Education” – April 2016. https://www.isbe.net/Documents/guidance-16-1-sex-education.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.