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North Dakota

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“People are really hungry. People, particularly the youth, are craving comprehensive, evidence-based sexual education.” - Amy Jacobson, the Director of External Affairs at the Planned Parenthood of North Dakota.


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. (4)


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. (4)


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. (4)


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. (4)


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 North Dakota…


2008: While abstinence-only-until marriage (AOUM) is the longstanding model for sexual education in North Dakota, The North Dakota Department of Public Instruction publishes the North Dakota Health Content and Achievement Standards, which established benchmarks for health instruction at all grade levels


2012: The scope of sexual education shifted when the North Dakota Planned Parenthood received funding through the federal Personal Responsibility Education Program grant. The grant money was won and received by the North Dakota State University in Fargo and is shared with Planned Parenthood. The University subcontracts Planned Parenthood to institute community-based programs, while the University conducts research on sexual education. 


2017: According to the Family & Youth Services Bureau (which is part of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services), in 2017 the University was one of the twenty-one recipients, and they received $250,000 to mobilize and take action. Breaking tradition, Planned Parenthood’s money has gone towards providing communities with inclusive, evidence-based, nonjudgmental education for professionals, parents, students, and educators. 


2018: Abstinence-only-until marriage (AOUM) is still at play but gets a rebrand.  It’s now called “Sexual Risk Avoidance” under the Trump administration, AOUM is mandated by the state, and up to the school districts and educator’s discretion to decide the material.   

North Dakota chose not to apply for Title V SRAE funds (1).

Notable Legislation

North Dakota Century Code Title 15.1-21-24: enforced in 2012, this bill (unfortunately) required every school district including private schools, to teach abstinence education within its health curriculum (1).


North Dakota did not hold any sessions in 2018, so there haven’t been bills introduced pertaining to sex-ed specifically between 2018 and 2019. 

Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)

North Dakota mandates both sex-ed and HIV education within the state. However, that’s as far as things go regulation-wise. There are no specifications making sure sex-ed curriculum is age-appropriate, medically accurate, unbiased, or not promoting religion. This also means that there’s no way to make sure every student is learning the same thing or the comprehensiveness of what is being learned (2). What is encouraged however is, you guessed it, abstinence. 


According to the 2018 SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States) report, abstinence and marital sex are encouraged while teen sex is strongly discouraged, and discussions of systemic barriers and disparities (i.e., sexual health outcomes across different cultures, and ethnicities) are not properly or fully addressed (1). Interestingly enough, however, even abstinence is only encouraged instead of stressed, and there’s an emphasis on the negative outcomes of sex but, once again, there are no regulations (2).

What the kids are actually learning

Through the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, school districts are provided the North Dakota Health Content and Achievement Standards, which are learning benchmarks for health classes in all grades (1). All grades follow the same “standards,” though the topics taught to each grade level differs within the standards so the benchmarks differ as well (3). These are the standards (3):

  • Standard 1 Understand concepts related to human growth and development, health promotion, disease prevention. 
  • Standard 2 Analyze the influence of family, peers, culture, media, technology, and other factors on health behaviors. 
  • Standard 3 Demonstrate the ability to access valid health information, products, and services. 
  • Standard 4 Demonstrate the ability to use interpersonal communication skills to enhance health and avoid or reduce health risks. 
  • Standard 5 Demonstrate the ability to use decision-making skills to enhance health and avoid or reduce health risks. 
  • Standard 6 Demonstrate the ability to use goal-setting skills to enhance health and avoid or reduce health risks. 
  • Standard 7 Demonstrate the ability to practice health-enhancing behaviors and avoid or reduce health risks. 
  • Standard 8 Demonstrate the ability to advocate for personal, family, and community health.

Sexual education begins to get introduced in grade 7. 


Since Planned Parenthood plays a unique role in sex education within North Dakota, we reached out to the North Dakota branch.  Amy Jacobson, the North Dakota Public Affairs Manager for Planned Parenthood MN, ND, SD, said she is especially worried about the state of North Dakota’s sexual education because, without unified content, students may not receive appropriate coverage of specific topics (i.e., reproductive anatomy, sexually transmitted infections, etc.). Without being in the classroom, no one really knows what students across the state are learning. 

Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?

Data shows that teens really want (and need) inclusive, comprehensive and evidence-based sexual education that teaches them about sexual orientation, masturbation, consent, their bodies, and communication (the list can go on). Jacobson, from Planned Parenthood ND, knows the impact good sex education can have on the lives of many people. She has helped organize and create four sexual education programs in ND that have reached more than 10,000 North Dakotans!


Planned Parenthood North Dakota currently, offers three programs (all mostly based in Fargo, ND): 

  • Reach One Teach One (ROTO) – This is ten class peer education program that provides people the opportunity to learn about the different experiences of sexuality and then can teach others what they learned – how cool?! 
  • Sexual Health and Adolescent Risk Prevention (SHARP) – a 4-hour class for teens who want to decrease risky sexual behaviors in relation to substance abuse 
  •  Parents Are Sexuality Educators (PASE) – a one-time class for parents (that’s right, parents) who want to learn how to talk to their children about sexuality 
  • Safe Spaces – a training session to teach people who work with children and adolescents on how to provide nonjudgmental, comfortable spaces 


To register and learn more about these programs click here! Planned Parenthood can even help you travel to program sessions, and provides snacks (who doesn’t love a good snack?)! 


These programs are crucial to the health and well-being of all people in North Dakota. But according to Jacobson, it’s a “cold climate” in North Dakota for progressive issues.  Currently, there are no state protections for LGBTQ communities (for housing and employment), evidence-based sexual education exists outside of educational institutions, and every other year educators, advocates, and communities have to fight for comprehensive sex education at North Dakota’s legislative sessions. 


Despite the backlash though, Jacobson and the Planned Parenthood team are working towards expanding their sexual education programs and reaching more people across the state. They are fierce activists who are dedicated to changing the landscape of sexual education. Knowing knowledge and having agency over our bodies is fundamental to self-esteem, confidence, success, and life. 


So, all in all, here’s a quick overview: 

  • Sexual education is mandated in North Dakota but is historically AOUM focused 
  • There’s no unified way to teach sexual education, and the content is up to the school districts and/or teachers’ discretion
  • Change to tradition  (AOUM) occurred in 2012 when Planned Parenthood received program funding and began to change the narrative surrounding sexual education.  While this is exciting, it is not institutionalized, meaning only schools working directly with Planned Parenthood have access.  It is not the programming mandated by the state.

More resources for ya...

There are lots of resources for people seeking comprehensive, evidence-based sex ed! Check them out here:


Want to learn the state of sex-ed in the other states? Check it out!

Written by: Kayla Bert

Edited by: Teri Bradford

Have info to add? Please get in touch!

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+ References

(1) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2018.

(2) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019.

(3) North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. “PDF.” Bismark, ND, 2018.

(4) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010.

(1) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2018.

(2) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019.

(3) North Dakota Department of Public Instruction. “PDF.” Bismark, ND, 2018.

(4) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010.