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. (6)
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. (6)
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. (6)
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. (6)
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 the state of West Virginia…
2018: In the 2018 fiscal year, West Virginia received $373,415 in federal Title V SRAE funding, and one SRAE grantee, Mission West Virginia, Inc., received $442, 019 (1).
West Virginia Code §18-2-9: this foundational West Virginia law requires “course curriculum requirements and materials [to] be adopted by the state board by rule in consultation with the Department of Health and Human Resources (1).” It also requires HIV/AIDS prevention to be part of general health education for grades 6-12 (1).
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
West Virginia is a great example of how laws can be a bit tricky. Here’s what we mean: in WV, sex-ed is not mandated by law in the usual way (i.e. being written into the law and specifying it must be taught) (1). However, it’s the state law that every school district has to follow the West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards (WVCCRS) for Wellness Education (3). These standards promote “health literacy,” and under falls (ding, ding, ding) sexual health education. So in a way, it is mandated. HIV/AIDS education is mandated more directly in West Virginia for grades 6- 12.
Because sex-ed is more the byproduct of a law than the law itself, there are no regulations to the curriculum. Specifically, the curriculum does not have to be age-appropriate, medically accurate, culturally appropriate and unbiased, or refrain from promoting religion (2). HIV education is also not particularly regulated. The curriculum for HIV education is completely up to the school board of each county, which is responsible for integrating the topics into general education (1). The law states that the board “may also include it in ‘science, social studies, and developmental guidance’ courses in order to ‘assure total understanding of the disease and its consequences.’” The curriculum about HIV/AIDs must be taught by a qualified professional who knows the most current information about AIDS. And ultimately, with a note to the principal, parents are able to opt their children out of any sex education courses through West Virginia’s “opt-out” policy (1).
What the kids are actually learning
As we mentioned above, the law in W.V is moreso about following the Board of Education’s West Virginia College- and Career-Readiness Standards for Wellness Education (WVCCRS) curriculum, which happens to include sexual education, than about sex ed itself. WVCCRS includes STI/D and HIV prevention and transmission education, reviewing the components of the reproductive system, the “factors that lead to teen pregnancy,” and methods to prevent pregnancy (1).
West Virginia is one of eight US states that include consent in their sex education and, though it’s covered, abstinence is not stressed like it is in other states (2). Unfortunately, individuals, principals, and school districts have the final say on how comprehensive this education is.
In a 2017 PBS story, Kierstan Edwards, a teen mom who got pregnant at 14 shared her experience. She said she and her partner weren’t using proper protection, but they still didn’t think it could happen to them (4). Edwards described her sex-ed up to that point as something she learned for an hour once a year, and then the next year the information was repeated for another hour (4). At the time of the interview, Brandy Surratt, Edwards’s mother who is helping raise her grandchild, said she was all for comprehensive education. She shared,
“Don't just teach them, 'Hey, abstinence is the best, here's a condom.' No, don't hand them out condoms, teach them about all sorts of different birth controls...You're not going to change a teenager's hormones no matter how much you preach. It's not going to work, because teenagers are hormonal, and things happen (4).”
Selina Vickers, a state health coordinator, also pointed out that West Virginia has a high poverty rate. She believes high-quality sex-ed could help end that.
“West Virginia is a very high poverty state anyway. Teen pregnancy is just part of the cycle of poverty, and if we want our kids to break the poverty cycle, we have to stop them from becoming mothers and fathers before they're ready,”(4).
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Mission West Virginia is a “non-profit organization that focuses on creating stronger communities throughout the state (1).” Their mission is to “promote positive futures [for youth and families] by recruiting foster families” by “providing life skills, education, and creating community connections (1).” They were the 2018 SRAE grant recipients for WV. According to the 2018 Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US report for West Virginia, they “serve mostly young white people ages 10-19 using Promoting Health Among Teens! (PHAT)—Abstinence-Only Intervention curriculum for middle school students and Love Notes curriculum for high school students in school, clinic, and juvenile justice settings in eight counties in southern West Virginia (1).”
Planned Parenthood has branches all over the country. In Vienna, WV, there is a clinic that is powered by Planned Parenthood South Atlantic. Though it is the only PP in West Virginia, it does offer (5):
- Abortion Referrals
- Birth Control
- General Health Care
- HIV Testing
- LGBTQ Services
- Men’s Health Care
- Morning-After Pill (Emergency Contraception)
- Pregnancy Testing & Services
- STD Testing, Treatment & Vaccines
- Women’s Health Care
Written by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2018. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/West-Virginia-FY18-Final.pdf
(2) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute. The Guttmacher Institute, December 3, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
(3) Office of West Virginia Secretary of State. “PDF.” Charleston, WV, 2018. https://apps.sos.wv.gov/adlaw/csr/readfile.aspx?DocId=50459&Format=PDF
(4) PBS NewsHour. “West Virginia Schools Rethink Sex Ed.” PBS. May 21, 2017. https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/west-virginia-schools-rethink-sex-ed.
(5) Parenthood, Planned. “Birth Control & STD Testing – Vienna, WV.” Planned Parenthood. lanned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., 2019. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-center/west-virginia/vienna/26105/vienna-health-center-2893-90860.
(6) Cornblatt, Johannah. “A Brief History of Sex Ed in America.” Newsweek, March 13, 2010. https://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001.