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. (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!)
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 Wyoming…
Wyoming has budged little since the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) aka the “Chastity Law.”
Wyoming prides itself on the “Live and let live” motto when it comes to sexual education. Former outreach coordinator at a Title X clinic, Molly Adami, shares that there is more of a “don’t regulate us” attitude in her state, which has led to virtually no laws and policies guiding sexual education. Adami says,
“It's almost better not to push the subject...with Wyoming being a conservative state, the discussion would probably lean more towards the direction of abstinence-only education."
70s: due to concerns about adolescent pregnancy and eventually HIV/AIS, sexual education reaches schools across the US (1).
1981: the Regan era signed off on the AFLA that provides federal funding through Title X to AOSE programming in US states.
2015: The Center for Disease Control releases the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey and encourages states to start implementing more comprehensive sex-ed
2016: The Wyoming Content and Performance Standards becomes an effective rule, which includes the standards required for graduation (3). Though there are mentions of sex-ed, there is no specific curriculum.
Wyoming statute § 21-9-101: requires each school district within the state to provide education in accordance with uniform standards and rules and regulations promulgated by the state board.
Wyoming Statute §21-2-304: gives the state board the ability to implement curriculum, programming, graduation requirements, etc.
Tell us more about the sex-ed requirements (or lack there of)
There is one consistency in Wyoming´s sex education law – there are no requirements. Wyoming is one of only two states that have neither state law nor a policy regarding sex or STD/HIV education and is one of 28 other states that do not require public schools to teach sex education at all (1). When (or if) it is taught, there’s no regulating if the content is medically accurate, age-appropriate, or unbiased. Local school boards are in charge of the details like in what grade this information should be taught. However, the state did step in to say that one thing sex-ed programs should do is, you guessed it, stress the benefits of abstinence (2). We all know how well that works out.
If or when any sex-ed programs take place, Wyoming abides by an opt-out policy. This means that parents are notified before any lessons take place, and they are able to fill out a form for removing their child from class if they choose (2).
According to the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS), each school district is encouraged to organize a health advisory council and decide on their own policies, curriculum, etc (3).
What the kids are actually learning
Due to the lack of a state mandate with guidelines on what needs to be taught, sex-ed varies across the state. Adami, who was educated in the state, shared that there were a total of two sexual education classes over the course of her middle school experience. And when high school came around, students were required to participate in a pregnancy exercise.
Students were matched up with a heterosexual partner, and were informed they needed to decide what to do in the face of the scenario – the girl was pregnant. Students were highly encouraged to talk with their parents. Adami mentioned that there was only one girl who decided on abortion for the class scenario.
“I thought, wow, she is so brave to say it out loud. I know a bunch of us were thinking of it but weren’t willing to say it,''
Any interesting programs/initiatives/legislation in the works or currently running?
Programs such as Wyoming Personal Responsibility and Education Program (WyPREP) currently offer two curricula that are evidence-based, medically accurate comprehensive sexual education programming in schools and community-based settings (4). Generously funded by the Affordable Care Act, WyPREP has the ability to pay school districts to implement the curriculum that has been developed. It trains the teachers, provides them with school supplies, and in return, offers WyPrep with data (4). What more can you ask for?
However, some districts would fall back on school administrations when rejecting the opportunity to incorporate the WyPREP program into their school. Other times, Adami mentioned that teachers would go through the training, and then choose to no longer participate in the program after the fact. But, the schools in which the WyPREP programs were implemented proved to be well received by students.
So what are these programs?
Making Proud Choices (MPC) is an 8-module curriculum that provides adolescents with the knowledge, confidence, and skills necessary to reduce their risk of STDs, HIV, and pregnancy (5). It implements interactive strategies in the lessons. These teaching strategies and activities were designed to influence the theory-based risk and protective factors related to sexual risk behaviors. You can learn more about the program and its core components here.
Reducing the Risk (RTR) program is a curriculum designed to help high school students delay the initiation of sex or increase the use of protection against pregnancy, STDs, and HIV if they choose to have sex. It also includes an optional LGBTQ supplement that helps teachers build a supportive environment for LGBTQ.
More resources for ya...
KNOWYO – Backed by the Wyoming Department of Health and the CDC. Knowyo provides resources to locate the closest clinic to you, and comprehensive education about sex and relationships. It even offers the option to obtain free condoms online, so you can avoid awkward cashier encounters (6). Don’t let awkwardness be the reason you don’t use protection.
Casper, Wyoming was home to the only Planned Parenthood location in the state since 1975 and served around 500 patients per year. In 2017, the clinic closed down. However, Planned Parenthood claimed that its Wyoming Abortion Fund, still active, would connect women to abortion providers and continue to offer sexual education resources.
Written by: Chantelle Bacigalupo
Edited by: Teri Bradford
Have info to add? Please get in touch!
(1) “Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, November 1, 2019. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education
(2) “Sex in the States: Wyoming.” Sex, etc. Rutgers University, 2019. https://sexetc.org/states/wyoming/.
(3) SIECUS. “PDF.” Washington, DC, 2019. https://siecus.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Wyoming-FY18-Final.pdf
(4) “Wyoming Personal Responsibility and Education Program (WyPREP).” Wyoming Department of Health. Wyoming Department of Health, 2019. https://health.wyo.gov/publichealth/mch/youthandyoungadult-health/wyoming-personal-responsibility-and-education-program-wyprep/.
(5) ETR. “Program Success Center for Sexual & Reproductive Health.” Advancing Health Equity, ETR. ETR, 2019. https://www.etr.org/ebi/programs/making-proud-choices/.
(6) “Clinics.” KnoWyo. Center for Disease Conrol, 2019. https://knowyo.org/clinics/.
(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.