Welcome to the 32nd state of the Union – where there are more bodies of water than people (not actually but it feels like it) and winter sticks around for more than half the year. Minnesota, whose name translates to “sky tinted water”, was colonized in the 1600s by the French on land that belonged predominantly to the Dakota and Ojibwe tribes, although many others called the territory their home (2, 3). After Minnesota became a state in 1858, its journey along the path of sexual education is somewhat muddy (3).
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. (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. (8)
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.
Now on to Minnesota…
1981: With the signing of the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) or the “Chastity Bill,” came the norm of abstinence-only education in Minnesota and across the country (5).
We move on to present day below…
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Minnesota has continued to receive money from the federal level to teach abstinence-only education and, although organizations and advocates continue to try to bring accurate and vital information to schools, the government abruptly cut funding to several programs in MN just this past year.
The Trump-Pence administration administered a gag rule that stopped any clinic that received Title X funding (the federal grant money designated for comprehensive family planning? Yep, that one) from mentioning abortion services to patients (7). This change, along with other guideline changes, caused programs like the Teen Pregnancy and Prevention Program in Hennepin County, MN’s most populated county, to be completely cut (1).
Over the years, many a bill has been drafted and struck down. Minnesota has been unsuccessful in passing any comprehensive sex-ed laws to date. Lawmakers here in the North Star State just can’t seem to agree on the best way forward.
Recently, a bill was introduced in Minnesota that aims to address the ambiguity in the state’s dealing with sexual education. Representative Todd Lipet and Senator Susan Kent sponsored bill HF 1414 / SF 2065, which would require medically accurate, comprehensive, and age-appropriate information be taught in sex-ed classes (6). Advocates (many of the students themselves) argued that the current system was leaving them and their peers underprepared for sexual encounters and relationships.
Tightening regulations on sex education would close the holes left by the current system – help teens learn about healthy relationships, become more comfortable with contraception and provide information on sexual health from trained professionals (6). Opponents worried that parents would have less control over what their children were learning and that the material was not appropriate for students (6). Ultimately the bill was dropped from a larger measure that was passed in 2019, continuing the states ambiguous relationship with sex education (6).
What the kids are actually learning
Minnesota – Land of Ten Thousand Lakes – and ten thousand ways to teach sex-ed. The state of Minnesota has done very little to regulate its sexual health education curriculum, in fact, there is no curriculum at any level (4). Beyond that, what IS defined really doesn’t seem to give much guidance.
There are four (that’s right, a whole 4) requirements in Minnesota when it comes to what must be taught about Sexual Health (1):
1. A course has to exist (claps for MN),
2. The course must provide education on HIV/AIDS,
3. Abstinence must be taught as the only way to effectively prevent STIs/ pregnancy 100% of the time
4. The course must be “technically” correct (if you figure out what that means, please let us know).
What doesn’t Minnesota require?
Here are the highlights: Parental consent, information on contraceptives, any sexual health training for teachers, information on LGBTQ+ issues, information on consent, information to be medically accurate (1). Parental consent is not required for sex ed but parents are able to review curriculums and take their students out of sex-ed if they deem the material not suitable (1). Ya know, none of the important stuff 😉
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Although the Government in the land of corn and arctic winters is having trouble coming to a consensus about what Minnesota’s students need in sex-ed, there are some great programs and platforms for people of all ages and knowledge to get more info.
Planned Parenthood North Central States has 18 locations in MN, with reduced-cost services and a website with comprehensive and medically accurate information available online. They offer a specific class to younger patients called Safe Sex Intervention (SSI) that informs teens about safe sex and healthy relationships.
Minnesota also has a statewide hot-line called the MN Family Planning & STD Hotline. Their trained sexual health educators are not medical professionals, but they can help with questions. Over the phone! FREE! Online! Oh my! Sexual health advocates continue to work to raise and regulate the standards for sexual education in schools, but in the meantime, there are plenty of other resources for students (or anyone, frankly) to up their sex-ed game.
Written by: Susie Campbell
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “Sex Education in Minnesota.” Minnesota Women’s Consortium. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.mnwomen.org/research-and-resources/sex-education-in-minnesota/.
(2) Lakota/Nakota/Dakota. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://www.hanksville.org/daniel/lakota/Lakota.html.
(3) “Origin of ‘Minnesota.’” State Symbols USA. Accessed November 11, 2019. https://statesymbolsusa.org/symbol-official-item/minnesota/state-name-origin/origin-minnesota.
(4) History.com Editors. “Minnesota.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, November 9, 2009. https://www.history.com/topics/us-states/minnesota.
(5) “Comprehensive Sex Ed in U.S. Schools: A Brief History.” Annex Teen Clinic, June 21, 2018. https://annexteenclinic.org/2018/06/13/comprehensive-sex-ed-in-u-s-schools-a-brief-history/.
(6) Kats, Rachel, Jonathan Mohr, Mike Cook, and Rob Hubbard. “Calling Current Curriculum Inadequate, Advocates Call for Comprehensive Sex Ed in MN Schools.” Calling current curriculum inadequate, advocates call for comprehensive sex ed in MN schools – Session Daily – Minnesota House of Representatives, March 1, 2019. https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/SessionDaily/Story/13685.
(7) Flaccus, Gillian. “Oregon Breaks 50-Year Tie to Title X Funding in Response to Trump Abortion ‘Gag-Rule.’” The Register Guard. August 27, 2019. https://www.registerguard.com/news/20190827/oregon-breaks-50-year-tie-to-title-x-funding-in-response-to-trump-abortion-gag-rule.
(8) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.