Most of US Wants Sex Ed in Schools. Why Isn’t It Federally Mandated and Funded?

hen Healing to Action, a survivor-led organization working to end gender-based violence in Chicago, teamed up with the Chicago Teachers Union to assess the city’s implementation of a 2013 mandate to teach sexual education in public schools, they uncovered vast disparities. Seventy percent of Windy City K-12 youth were not receiving the full sequence of intended instruction, missing critical lessons on subjects as diverse as anatomy, sexual desire and expression, gender identity, pregnancy, sexual abuse, personal hygiene, sexually transmitted diseases, domestic and dating violence, contraception and abortion.

Christine Soyong Harley, CEO and president of SIECUS: Sex Ed for Social Change, told Truthout that much of the problem rests with the fact that the U.S. Department of Education has no authority over sexual health education. This, coupled with the idea that local jurisdictions should determine what students learn, is at the crux of the problem. But another big issue, she says, is attitudinal: “The fact is, for the majority of our history as a country, we’ve been grappling over what we should teach young people about sex,” Harley told Truthout. “Abstinence has been a priority, and there’s been an avoidance of anything that moves beyond pregnancy and illness prevention.” The result? There is tremendous variation in what students learn or don’t learn.

Financial pressures have also led cash-strapped schools to open their doors to anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers, groups that offer biased, Christian-centric “educational” programming. “These centers call and offer to come into schools for free, typically hiding their agenda until they arrive,” Harley said. “They then hold assemblies where they tell young girls that they are as valuable as a cup of spit if they have premarital sex.”

truthout Most of US Wants Sex Ed in Schools. Why Isn’t It Federally Mandated and Funded?