The History of Sex Education

  • Traditionally, sex education was thought to be exclusively the responsibility of family and religion. While this view is no longer universally held in the US, there continues to be two divergent views on sex education: 1) medically-accurate and comprehensive information about sexual health decreases risk-taking behaviors; and 2) medically-accurate, comprehensive information increases risk-taking behaviors.[1] While research has shown the former to be correct, scare tactics, stigma, and shame continue to be a hallmark of much sexuality education, both formal and informal.

    To better understand why this is so, it helps to take a look at the origins of today’s sex education.

    Sex Education Timeline[2],[3] 1918: The Chamberlain-Kahn Act mandates soldier education on syphilis and gonorrhea .

    1919 – The U.S. Department of Labor’s Children’s Bureau releases a report suggesting sex education during school could have better protected soldiers from STIs.

    1920s- Sex education is introduced in high schools.

    1930s- The US Office of Education first publishes sex education materials and trains teachers.

    1930s-1940s: Human sexuality courses appear in colleges.

    1964: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS) is founded.

    1968: The US Department of Education gives NYU a grant to develop graduate programs for training sex education teachers.

    1960s-1970s: Sex education becomes a political issues; parents start protesting it in schools.

    1980s: The AIDS crisis strengthens sex ed advocates’ case.

    1981- 1981: Adolescent Family Life Act passed; funds “chastity” and abstinence-only education

    mid-1990s: Every state has a mandate for AIDS education

    1990 – SIECUS convenes National Guidelines Task Force.

    1991- The first Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education – Kindergarten-12th Grade is published.

    1993- SCOTUS rules that federally-funded sex education programs must delete direct references to religion

    1994: US Surgeon General Joceyln Elders endorses teaching about masturbation and subsequently is forced to resign

    1996: The Welfare Reform Act includes a provision that provides tens of millions of dollars to abstinence-only programs

    2000: The Special Projects of Regional and National Significance–Community-Based Abstinence Education adds $31 million to the federal funding stream for abstinence-only programs.

    2004: The Content of Federally Funded Abstinence-Only Education Programs (The Waxman Report) is released and shows such programs contain inaccurate and misleading information.

    2006: The Government Account Office (GAO) releases a report showing that most abstinence-only programs were not reviewed for scientific accuracy before funding and implementation.

    2007 – The Trenholm study finds four federally-funded abstinence programs are ineffective at changing young people’s sexual behaviors

    2007- UNAIDS/WHO evaluation finds 13 abstinence-only programs for HIV prevention are ineffective

    2007- Emerging Answers published; evaluates 56 programs

    2008- President Bush requests $242 million for abstinence-only funding; Congress approves $176.83

    2009- Obama administration budgets $114.5 million to support evidence-based programs. The majority of the funds are earmarked for replicating these programs.

    2011- Polling shows 90% of US parents support sex education in high school while 75% support it in middle school.

    2014: 22 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education while 11 more mandate HIV education.[4]

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    [1] Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Inc. (2012). Sex education in the United States. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/3713/9611/7930/Sex_Ed_in_the_US.pdf

    [2] Cornblatt, J. A. (2009). Brief history of sex ed in America. Newsweek. http://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-sex-ed-america-81001

    PPFA, 2012.

    [3] Future of Sex Education. (2014). History of sex education. http://www.futureofsexed.org/background.html

    [4] Guttmacher Institute. (2014). State policies in brief: Sex and HIV education. http://www.guttmacher.org/statecenter/spibs/spib_SE.pdf

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