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!)
And in Ohio…
2008: Ohio receives $6,376,091 towards AOSE. These grants were extended into 2011, 2012, and 2013 (3).
2014: Ohio receives $2,130,799 towards AOSE programming. You can see where the money was allocated here (3).
SB 101/HB 132 was introduced in 2019. It requires the Ohio State Board of Education to include sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and HIV/AIDS prevention into the current curriculum at all schools. While the content will still stress abstinence, info on contraceptives and infection reduction measures will be included. This bill also pushes that the content is medically accurate and age-appropriate. There will an “opt-out” policy with this bill as well (6).
Current status as of December 2019: Senate Version: Pending- Carryover; House Version: Pending- Carryover.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Ohio does not require schools to provide or teach sex/sexuality education within their curriculum (1). Although a sex/sexuality education is not required in schools, a health curriculum with focused and specific points is. Of these points, there must be an emphasis on “abstinence from sexual activity is the only protection that is 100% effective against STDs, HIV and unintended pregnancies,” according to Ohio Revised Code (4).
The requirements go on to (1):
- Stress abstaining from sexual activity until after marriage (what if you don’t want to get married or legally can’t?)
- Teach conception out of wedlock will likely have harmful consequences to the child(ren), the child’s parents and society; and,
- Financial responsibilities to the parents (1).
There is only required note pertaining to criminal circumstances of sexual contact with a minor (under the age of 16), but no comments required on sexual harassment, consent or body respect (1).
Though the content of the programs above is a bit better than before, Ohio’s sex-ed still hasn’t been given the attention it needs to develop well-rounded students. Often times, schools are left with their own resources to build a sex-ed curriculum, although there are a few platforms out there providing curriculum planning tools like the Oklahoma Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (OAHPERD), the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and Planned Parenthood (PP).
What the kids are actually learning
A few school districts in Ohio have curriculums that provide a more improved approach to sex education. Though the curriculums offer “abstinence-plus” or “abstinence comprehensive” content, it is paired with conversations around reproductive health and systems, sexuality, healthy relationship building, consent, and contraceptive use to avoid unintended pregnancies, STDs (3).
Over the last ten or so years, programs such as “Human Sexuality”, “Draw the Line, Respect the Line,” and “Reducing the Risk” have been created. They inspire new models of teaching for future education. Sadly, most of Ohio submits to “abstinence-only” teachings, which provide little medically accurate information and has been proven to be ineffective. On top of the AOSE programming, students are permitted to skip the curriculum discussing these topics altogether with written consent from a parent/guardian.
We are faced with an issue of what students are NOT learning in sex education, depriving youth of a safe and open space to learn about their bodies and sexuality. Encouraging an absence of awareness in the body prevents the growth of who we are as individuals and stomps on our human rights.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
The good news is that folks in Ohio are coming together to provide safe spaces and platforms for youth to ask questions and learn about their bodies and sex.
Of these communities, 216 Teens (Cuyahoga County Board of Health) has been a vibrant resource for all bodies, all sexualities, parents and youth alike. Communities are able to seek the answers to their questions, gain knowledge through video on puberty, menstruation, and prevention. They can also view an extensive glossary of sexuality terms, search for healthcare finders, learn their rights as a human, and reach out to a helpline if needed (2).
(1) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2015. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/OHIO09.pdf
(2) “Welcome Cuyahoga County Teens!” 216Teens. 216Teens, 2019. https://216teens.org/.
(3) “The State of Sexual Education.” NARAL. Pro Choice Ohio. 2019. https://prochoiceohio.org/state-choice-report/state-sexual-education/
(4) Law writer. “Webserver.” Ohio, 2001. https://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3313.60
(5) Law writer. “Webserver.” Ohio, 2001. https://codes.ohio.gov/orc/3313.6011
(6) 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.
(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.