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. (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 in New Mexico…
By 2005, New Mexico didn’t mandate that schools teach anything about human sexuality, but it did require that HIV and AIDS prevention be taught in middle or high school. Also in 2005, New Mexico received nearly $2,300,000 in federal funding for abstinence-only programs, emphasizing that saying no to sex was a person’s only option for preventing pregnancy and sex-related health issues. This might seem unrealistic, but much of the United States did (and continues to) promote abstinence as the epitome of sex education.
Senate Bill 40 was also proposed during this time to better fund teen pregnancy prevention programs, but died at the end of the legislative session.
In 2006, House Joint Memorial 40 upheld the Secretary of Health’s decision to limit the use of abstinence-only programs to younger grade levels. A woman by the name of Susan Rodriguez is a shining hero in bringing awareness to the inaccurate and invalid information being pushed through abstinence-only programs. She pressed the NM Department of Health to review the curricula being used. Through her persistence, it was determined that older students were to receive a more comprehensive sex education. There was even a documentary released called “Abstinence Comes to Albuquerque” released about her fight for sex ed justice!
New Mexico Administrative Code 188.8.131.52 and 184.108.40.206 both mandate that New Mexico schools teach a course in health education in either middle school or high school (). While this instruction is meant to focus on HIV prevention, abstinence is stressed as the only 100% effective tactic.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
In New Mexico, sex education is mandated by the state. There is an “opt-out” option, where parents or students of legal age can sign a waiver saying they don’t want to participate in sex ed. Some people think this is a great addition because it allows parents to have a look into what is being taught and decide if it’s right for their kid or not. On the other hand, the opt-out option may not allow students the chance to be exposed to topics in sex ed, potentially leaving them unprepared for the real world. HIV and STD prevention is at the forefront of New Mexico’s sex education standards.
What the kids are actually learning...
Under the Health Education with Benchmarks and Performance Standards, New Mexico’s sex education is broken down by age and grade level. Students in grades 3 and 4 get the abstinence-only talk, assuming that’s all that is relevant for kids of that age. A slightly more comprehensive sex ed class is taught in grades 7 and 8. This is interesting! Middle Schoolers are taught about abstinence but not to the point where that’s all they learn. Condoms and other barrier techniques are discussed, introducing new ways to prevent certain sex-related issues. Even better, students in high school receive instruction on the various forms of birth control, including hormonal contraceptives. Students are also taught about how culture and the media portray gender in health, and how to maintain healthy, positive, consensual relationships and behaviors (amazing!!!).
In the 2015-2016 school year, nearly 90% (yes, NM!) of schools taught 9-12th grade students how to access reliable information, services, or products related to STD, HIV, or pregnancy. That same 90% also taught high school students the importance of healthy, responsible, and respectful relationships. 85% taught how to maintain one’s sexual and reproductive health, with almost 80% teaching students about various forms of contraception.
The state of New Mexico also provides resources and information about sexual orientation, gender roles, gender identity, and gender expression. About 65% of schools discussed these topics with high schoolers and about 53% with their middle schoolers. 46% of schools supplied their student bodies with relevant resources for those of the LGBTQ+ community. Whether or not this is taught during sex ed class for everyone to learn is unclear.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
The Santa Fe Mountain Center aims to bring a holistic, retreat-like experience for those in vulnerable communities. This might include LGBTQ+ members, those struggling with their mental health, those dealing with substance abuse, or individuals lacking community or social support. The program’s main goal is to help young people and adults form resilience and self-empowerment.
The Office of School and Adolescent Health (OSAH) helps young people in a bunch of ways. They collaborate with both public and private organizations to allow for better resources for New Mexico’s youth on a variety of topics including teen pregnancy prevention, STD and AIDS prevention, and supporting adolescent mental health.
New Mexico’s Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) supports American Indian/Alaska Native and Latino youths in healthy adolescent development and maintaining healthy life skills and relationships. This program is run through the New Mexico Department of Public Health.
More resources to check out
1. University of New Mexico has a dedicated LGBTQ+ resource center where young people can receive education, resources, and products to better help in safe sex practices and understanding one’s sexuality.
3. Planned Parenthood of New Mexico is an excellent resource for all things sex-related. They have four locations:
701 San Mateo NE
Albuquerque, NM 87108
9809 Candelaria Road NE
Albuquerque, NM 87112
1308 E. 20th Street
Farmington, NM 87401
730 St. Michael’s Drive, Suite 4B
Santa Fe, NM 87505
Written by: Clare McCammon
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “Analysis of State Health Education Laws: New Mexico Summary Report.” PDF File. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, December 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/policy/pdf/summary_report_factsheets/New_Mexico.pdf
(2) “Comprehensive Sexual Health Education.” New Mexico Public Education Department, October 24, 2019. https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/safe-healthy-schools/comprehensive-sexual-health-education/.
(3) “HIV-STI Prevention Education Program.” New Mexico Public Education Department, March 27, 2019. https://webnew.ped.state.nm.us/bureaus/safe-healthy-schools/hiv-sti-prevention-education-program/.
(4) “New Mexico FY18 State Profile.” SIECUS. Accessed November 7, 2019. https://siecus.org/state_profile/new-mexico-fy18-state-profile/.
(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.