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 Oklahoma…
When you think of Oklahoma, a progressive and inclusive sexual education is most likely not one of the first things that come to your mind. Historically, Oklahoma has one of the highest teen birth rates in the United States and, as of 2019, Oklahoma has the third-highest teen birth rate in the United States (1). National research tells us that one of the ways to decrease the teen birth rate is through providing high-quality, developmentally-appropriate, medically-accurate sex education, so why is Oklahoma not doing this?
Currently, the Oklahoma state policy does not require the teaching of sex education. While attempts have been made to modernize the state of sexual education in Oklahoma, most of them have been shot down. Since the introduction of sexual education in schools, Oklahoma has always required that, if being taught, abstinence MUST be stressed.
Introduced in February 2013, House Bill 1380 and companion bill, Senate Bill 185, would require that students be provided with medically accurate, factually based sexual health education. In addition to mandating sex education, HB 1380/SB 185 would offer parents and guardians the opportunity to inspect the curricula and opt their children out of any sex education. Neither of these passed.
In 2016, HB 1507 was introduced which stated that school districts may provide programs to students in grades 7 through 12 addressing sexual violence, domestic violence, dating violence and stalking awareness and prevention. The programs may address the issue of consent to sexual activity and educate students about the affirmative consent standard. The bill failed and was adjourned (2).
More notable legislation, “Lauren’s Law” or House Bill 1007 failed this past March of 2019 after being re-written for the third time. Lauren Atkins, the woman who the bill is named after, was a Norman High School student in 2015 when she was raped by another student at a party. Since then, Atkins along with friend and local activist Stacey Wright, have worked to prevent similar stories from occurring to others. If put into action, Lauren’s Law would have provided professional development for administrators to properly teach and discuss consent and healthy relationships and provided support to districts who want to implement it (3).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
Sex-ed is not required in Oklahoma, however when it is taught, abstinence must be stressed and heteronormativity is perpetuated. It is not required that healthy relationships, sexual decision-making and self-discipline, consent, dating, and sexual violence prevention be taught. However, refusal skills and personal boundaries are required to be taught to reinforce the idea of abstinence. When taught, sexual education is not required to be age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, and can promote religious beliefs if desired. Parental notice is required, but parents do not have to consent for their children to be taught; although they do have the option to opt their child out of sexual education. What is mandated in Oklahoma is HIV education which includes condom usage but teaches that “homosexual activity” is considered to be “responsible for contact with the AIDS virus.”
What the kids are actually learning...
In 2017, in Green County, OK, outrage amongst parents was incited when a 12-year-old boy showed his mother a worksheet (pictured above) that he received during a sexual education class in school. Apparently, he said to his mother, “Mom, it’s like instead of them telling us how to not do it, it’s like they gave us a road map (4).” This leads you to believe that the demonization of sex is normalized so much so that the youth themselves even believe that they should only be taught to not have sex. Not cool.
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
1. The Central Oklahoma Teen Pregnancy Prevention Collaboration currently uses Evidence-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) programs for curricula in schools. Evidence-based TPP programs have been shown to have a positive impact on preventing teen pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, or sexual risk behaviors. The programs they use discuss both abstinence and contraception as viable ways to reduce the risk of unplanned pregnancy and STIs, in a medically-accurate and developmentally-focused context.
2. Thrive OKC is a public-private collaboration to reduce the teen birth rate in Central Oklahoma. Thrive believes in providing medically accurate and developmentally appropriate information regarding sexual health.
(1) Blackman, Kate, and Alise Garcia. “Teen Pregnancy in Oklahoma.” NCSL: National Conference of State Legislators. National Conference of State Legislatures, April 2, 2015. https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-oklahoma.aspx.
(2) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2013. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/OKLAHOMA-FINAL-FY-13.pdf#:~:targetText=Currently%2C%20Oklahoma%20state%20policy%20does,out%20of%20any%20sex%20education.
(3) Hall, Abigail. “Students Say Failure of ‘Lauren’s Law,’ Inadequate Sex Education in High Schools Contribute to Sexual Assault.” OU Daily. The Oklahoma Daily, May 13, 2019. https://www.oudaily.com/news/students-say-failure-of-lauren-s-law-inadequate-sex-education/article_1ebcb2fa-7369-11e9-b7a9-8bfbba359e30.html.
(4) News On Six. “Sex Ed Lesson Upsets Green Country Parents.” News On 6. Griffin Communications, October 20, 2017. https://www.newson6.com/story/36609941/sex-ed-lesson-upsets-green-country-parents.
(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.