Sexual education has been controversial in the United States for as long as it has existed, with some families opposed to students receiving it in schools and others wanting it severely limited in scope. Abstinence-only education — which attempts to teach young people not to have sex outside marriage and often does not include material on birth control and safe sex — began receiving federal funding in the 1980s.
Funding increased when George W. Bush was president. His successor, Barack Obama, attempted to end the program and direct money to comprehensive sexual education, but the Republican-led Congress kept it alive. Now abstinence education gets about $90 million in federal money annually, and this past summer, President Trump cut more than $200 million in federal grants to scores of organizations that work to decrease teen pregnancy rates, which could affect sex education programs in some areas.
According to this 2016 article, titled “The State of Sex Education in the United States” and published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, extensive research has shown that abstinence-only sex education in schools has failed in “delaying sexual initiation, reducing sexual risk behaviors, or improving reproductive health outcomes and the effectiveness of comprehensive sex education in increasing condom and contraceptive use and decreasing pregnancy rates.”
Florida law requires that any sex education program in the state include “an awareness of the benefits of sexual abstinence as the expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy,” but it does not preclude comprehensive education that covers birth control and other controversial subjects.
Some Florida districts do provide comprehensive sex education, including Broward County, which in 2015 started an age-appropriate program for all grades, including kindergarten, designed to promote “healthy attitudes concerning growth and development, body image, gender and sexuality, dating, relationships and family,” according to a district statement. It further says: “The school board believes comprehensive sexual health education provides our youth with the information, skills and support they need to develop positive values and make healthy decisions.”
The Santa Rosa school district, in the Florida Panhandle, has a different view. The board signed a memorandum of understanding with the Pregnancy Resource Center, which promotes abstinence until marriage. The memorandum, which you can see here, uses the word “sex” only once, in the last sentence, which describes Lesson 12: “Saving sex for marriage.”
The chairman and vice chairman of the school board did not respond to queries about the memorandum of understanding.
The other 11 lessons, according to the memo, are:
1) Components that affect our relationships
2) Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus
3) Goal setting and achieving
4) Overcoming obstacles
5) Actions have consequences
6) True love versus infatuation
7) Chemical bonding
8) Steps of intimacy and how to stop them
9) Boundaries are our friends
10) Foundations of a healthy relationship
11) STI facts and stories
12) Saving sex for marriage
The memo does not preclude the program from offering other lessons to students, as well.
The Pregnancy Resource Center’s website includes this as its mission:
The mission of the Pregnancy Resource Center of Milton is to serve others in Christ’s name by offering hope and assistance to anyone considering an abortion by presenting them with the realistic alternatives and Christ-centered support offered at our Center, upholding the sanctity of marriage, promoting sexual abstinence before marriage and providing healing for post-abortive trauma, unplanned pregnancies, and other related sexual issues.
As of March 1 2016, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures,
24 states and the District of Columbia require public schools teach sex education (21 of which mandate sex education and HIV education).
33 states and the District of Columbia require students receive instruction about HIV/AIDS.
20 states require that if provided, sex and/or HIV education must be medically, factually or technically accurate. State definitions of “medically accurate” vary, from requiring that the department of health review curriculum for accuracy to mandating that curriculum be based on information from “published authorities upon which medical professionals rely.” (See table on medically accuracy laws.)
Many states define parents’ rights concerning sexual education:
38 states and the District of Columbia require school districts to allow parental involvement in sexual education programs.
Four states require parental consent before a child can receive instruction.
35 states and the District of Columbia allow parents to opt out on behalf of their children.