The US House of Representatives has voted to pass an education bill that would place a ban on funding for sexual education courses that “normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior.”
The bill, known as the Student Success Act, is included as a portion of the Republican rewrite of the No Child Left Behind initiative created by President George W. Bush. The rewrite has been the subject of much debate over issues including the use of standardized testing, Common Core, teacher evaluations, and how large a role the federal government should play in education in comparison to state governments.
However, the measure in question includes language that appears to take away funding for evidence-based sex education in schools.
According to the bill, funding for programs “directed at youth, that are designed to promote or encourage sexual activity, or normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior, implicitly or explicitly, whether homosexual or heterosexual” would be prohibited.
The bill goes on to state that funding cannot be used to hand out materials considered to be “legally obscene” or that “normalize teen sexual activity as an expected behavior”on school grounds.
In addition, funding would also not be allowed for the distribution of contraceptives on school grounds or for sex education or HIV-prevention education programs that do not teach “the health benefits of abstinence.”
Advocates feel that this approach is ineffective, arguing that sex education is more beneficial when it discusses how normal teen sexual behavior is, considering 61% of teenagers have had sex by the time they turn 18 and 95% of people in the United States have had sex before marriage.
According to a report from Advocates for Youth, effective sex education “should treat sexual development as a normal, natural part of human development.” It is only through this method that children learn to make smart decisions concerning sex, relationships, and bodily autonomy, they say.
“Our young people deserve medically accurate and age-appropriate sex education so they can live healthy lives and have healthy relationships,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) told RH Reality Check. “Sadly, this bill goes in the exact opposite direction by prohibiting funding for proven health and sex education curriculum that keep young people healthy.”
In order to combat the bill, Lee introduced a separate bill, known as the REAL Education for Healthy Youth Act that would offer more comprehensive sex education.
Sex education is currently not standardized across the United States, with fewer than half of states requiring that it be taught and no federal mandate in existence that would test students on the subject. Many of the schools that do teach sex education focus on anatomy and the basics of pregnancy and disease prevention, writes Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
However, a 2013 survey from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost 75% of 12th graders in the US have had sex, and 10% of female high school students reported being forced to have sex when they did not want to. Many such assault survivors said would like to see better sex education classes offered in high schools, believing that doing so could prevent sexual violence.
Still, some parents believe that sex education creates a blurry line between teaching about sex and instilling an expectation in students concerning casual sex.