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. (5)
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. (5)
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. (5)
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. (5)
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 Iowa…
In FY 2018, the State of Iowa received $421,392 in federal Title V SRAE funding (1).
2019: Iowa Code § 279.50 was introduced. What’s that, you ask? Read on.
Iowa Code § 279.50: This bill was introduced in 2019. It states that each school board in Iowa would be required to have age-appropriate and research-based instruction sex and health education. Instruction would include human sexuality, self-esteem, stress management, interpersonal relationships, domestic abuse, HPV and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome in grades 1-12 (2).
Iowa Code 256.11: mandates that research-based, age-appropriate health education be taught in grades K– 12, and the code details what must be covered in each grade (2).
Iowa Code §§ 279.50: mandates that the curriculum use materials that are up-to-date, age-appropriate, and research-based/medically accurate.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Iowa does mandate both sex-ed and HIV education be taught in grades K-12. It also requires that the information be age-appropriate, medically accurate, culturally appropriate, and unbiased (yay!) (3). Not only is the information more comprehensive than many other states in the US, but the curriculum is also inclusive as far as sexual orientation is concerned (3). Another plus? The curriculum doesn’t stress abstinence as the only way to avoid pregnancy or STIs (3). We are all for students having a bit of choice and autonomy!
If parents don’t agree with the content of the courses or need to take their child out for any reason, Iowa follows an opt-out policy (1). Compared to an opt-in policy, opt-out methods skip any of the paperwork or access barriers needed to get a student into a sex-ed lesson. Instead, every student is already “enrolled,” and parents must fill out a form to take them out.
What the kids are actually learning
According to the Sexuality Information and Education of the US, when schools teach HIV/AIDS and STI/STD prevention lessons, content tends to shift by grade like so (1):
- Grades 1–6: discusses the characteristics of communicable diseases including AIDS
- Grades 7–8: health ed must include the attributes of STDs and AIDS
- Grades 9–12: students have to take one unit of sex/health education and learn prevention and control of disease, including STDs and AIQUE.
Outside of HIV and STI/STD testing, Iowa provides to schools the “Iowa Core: K-12 21st Century Skills” as guidance for sex-ed program development (4). This very hip sounding model is based on the idea that, in a phrase, modern problems require modern solutions. Students need to be equipped with “21st Century skills” to take on the new “global reality.”
The framework of this model is (4):
- Civic literacy
- Employability skills
- Financial literacy
- Health literacy
- Technology literacy
While this model isn’t specific to sex-ed, it does include a snippet of sexual health in the health literacy learning outcomes. Students should be able to “describe the interrelationships of the wellness dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, environmental, social, sexual, and spiritual wellness during adolescence.”
More resources for ya...
Planned Parenthood Iowa has several locations and will always provide accessible, non-judgemental sexual and reproductive health resources. You can make an appointment, call with your Q’s ready, or attend their events.
Written by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2018. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Iowa-FY18-Final-1.pdf
(2) Blackman, Kate, and Samantha Scotti. “Why Is Sexual Education Taught in Schools?” State Policies on Sex Education in Schools. National Conference of State Legislators, March 21, 2019. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx.
(3) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(4) Iowa Core. “PDF.” Des Moines, IA, 2007. https://iowacore.gov/sites/default/files/k-12_21stcentskills.pdf
(5) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.