Contents I. Introduction II. Existing Statutes and Funding Sources for Sex Education A. Federal Funding for Sex Education B. The Model: The California Healthy Youth Act III. Moving Towards a Solution A. Choosing Comprehensive Sex Education B. Mandating Sex Education C. Requiring Medical Accuracy D. Passive Consent with an Opt-Out Provision E. Addressing the Needs of LGBT Youth IV. Solving the Problem V. Conclusion I. Introduction
In Canyon, Texas, teachers encourage students to "stay like a new toothbrush, wrapped up and unused" and compare females that engage in premarital sex to chewed-up gum. (1) In Tunica, Mississippi, teachers describe girls who have sex before marriage as dirty, then demonstrate this concept using a piece of unwrapped chocolate passed around a classroom. (2) In Nashville, Tennessee, a sex education speaker told students to spit in a cup, asked a girl to drink from that cup, and then compared the cup full of spit to a woman who has had multiple sexual partners. (3) She then described in graphic--and inaccurate--detail an abortion. (4) In New York, sex educators teach students that the vagina is a "sperm deposit," that it "receives sperm during reproduction," and that the penis is a "sperm gun." (5) Each of these abstinence-only lessons takes place in a state that receives federal funding to provide such education.
Abstinence-only education focuses on abstinence from sexual activity as the only method for preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections ("STIs"). Such education excludes any instruction about other means of safe sexual activity. Comprehensive sex education includes education about abstinence, but extends instruction to include contraception, sexuality, and other topics related to sexual activity. Most arguments about whether to institute abstinence-only or comprehensive sex education programs in schools are process-oriented; that is, they focus on how to provide sex education. (6) Much of the scholarly work about this topic presumes that these programs have the same goal, then analyzes which method is more effective in achieving that same goal. (7) These analyses are flawed because their basic premise is flawed; abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education do not have the same primary goal. While both forms of education do seek to reduce teenage pregnancy, teenage childbearing, and the spread of STIs, abstinence-only education's primary goal is to reduce premarital sex. (8) Comprehensive sex education seeks to reduce the negative impact of premarital sexual activity (9) and promote knowledge about reproductive health and sexuality. (10) Examining the problem from that point of view, the question then becomes which goal is more valuable, and which educational program the federal government should support.
States promote different approaches to sex education throughout the United States. (11) The most important distinction between states in the way they approach sex education is whether their statutory schemes provide for comprehensive sexual education or abstinence-only education. Another vital distinction is whether sex education is mandatory, (12) permitted, (13) or not addressed specifically or at all. (14) These distinct categories can be divided further; in those states that address sex education, some do not specify how it should be delivered, (15) while others provide specific guidelines regulating the way schools treat abstinence, STIs, (16) and contraception. (17) Some require that programs meet criteria about medical accuracy, (18) while others do not. (19) States also differ in the way they treat abortion (20) and homosexuality. (21) Additionally, while many states provide procedures for parents who want their children to be excused from sex education classes for religious reasons, these procedures vary from state to state. (22)
The federal government provides funding for abstinence-only educational programs. (23) If states accept these funds, sex education programs that use the funds must adhere to the strict guidelines the government provides. (24) The Social Security Act contains a funding provision for a "separate program for abstinence education" called the Abstinence Education Grant Program ("AEGP"). (25) AEGP's expressed purpose is "to enable the state to provide abstinence education." (26) If a state accepts funding through this program, it must have "as its exclusive purpose" teaching abstinence, (27) which necessarily prohibits education about other methods for maintaining reproductive health. (28) Under this statute, funded education programs must adhere to eight guidelines promoting abstinence education and prohibiting non-abstinence-focused information. (29) These eight guidelines are adopted verbatim or nearly verbatim in some states' sex education statutes. (30) Despite continuing evidence that abstinence-only education is not effective, (31) the government recently extended the duration of this program. (32)
This Note argues that the federal government should stop funding abstinence-only education because it is ineffective and begin funding sex education programs in states that adopt a statutory scheme consistent with the requirements of the California Healthy Youth Act, California's sex education statute. Specifically, the federal government should endorse state programs that mandate comprehensive sexual education that is directed toward providing medically accurate and complete information and promoting the knowledge and skills necessary for making healthy sexual choices. Such programs should also recognize the needs of minority groups, allow students with religious objections to opt out, and address a variety of potential pregnancy outcomes. (33)
Part II provides background on existing federal funding for sex education, including AEGP and President Obama's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs ("TPP"), and concludes that these programs are ineffective. It also examines the California Healthy Youth Act as a model for adequate sex education. Part III explains the different forms of sex education and advocates for federally funded sex education that is comprehensive and medically accurate and addresses diverse student needs. Part IV recommends improving sex education in the United States by eliminating AEGP and creating a federal program using a framework based upon the California Healthy Youth Act.
Existing Statutes and Funding Sources for Sex Education
Federal Funding for Sex Education
Federal statutes regarding sex education incentivize abstinence-only education and promote adoption and parenting as the only options for unplanned pregnancy. (34) One such statute funds AEGP, which provides financial support to states that promise to use those funds for abstinence-only educational programs that meet certain criteria. (35) AEGP was enacted under Title V of the Social Security Act in 1996 to provide funding for educational programs that promote abstinence from sexual activity. (36) Since its inception, it has been renewed each time it has expired; funding for AEGP was renewed in 2015 and expires in 2017. (37) At the time AEGP was renewed, funding increased from fifty million dollars per year (38) to seventy-five million dollars per year. (39) In 2015, thirty-six states received this funding. (40) Among states that received AEGP funding in 2015, grants ranged from $74,258 in North Dakota to $6.75 million in Texas. (41) Funds are distributed "based on the proportion of low-income children in each State." (42) States that receive AEGP funding must furnish at least forty-three percent of the costs associated with their programs through non-federal sources. (43)
AEGP lists eight requirements to which states must adhere in order to receive funding under the statute. To receive federal funds, a program must comport with the statute's definition of abstinence education, which means that the program
(A) has as its exclusive purpose, teaching the social, psychological, and health gains to be realized by abstaining from sexual activity;
(B) teaches abstinence from sexual activity outside marriage as the expected standard for all school age children;
(C) teaches that abstinence from sexual activity is the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections, and other associated health problems;
(D) teaches that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in the context of marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity;
(E) teaches that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects;
(F) teaches that bearing children out-of-wedlock is likely to have harmful consequences for the child, the child's parents, and society;
(G) teaches young people how to reject sexual advances and how alcohol and drug use increases vulnerability to sexual advances; and
(H)teaches the importance of attaining self-sufficiency before engaging in sexual activity. (44)
Because sex education programs funded under AEGP are confined to teaching within the bounds of these "exclusive purpose[s]," (45) they cannot provide information about contraception, STIs, or methods for protecting against STIs. In fact, discussion about contraceptives under this federally funded program is prohibited entirely except when describing failure rates. (46) Programs funded under AEGP are reviewed for compliance with these statutory standards but not for medical accuracy. (47) As a result, the government is providing states with funds to promulgate medically inaccurate, incomplete, and biased curricula. Students lack access to medically accurate sexual health information under these educational programs, which prevents them from making informed choices about their sexual health.
The language contained in AEGP is unscientific and needlessly alarmist. The statute explicitly states that non-marital sexual activity is psychologically and physically harmful, though there is no...