State standards telling schools to emphasize abstinence when offering sex education are insufficient to protect teens from pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease, a state lawmaker says.
“The studies show that abstinence only is not effective,” said Kyrsten Sinema, a Phoenix Democrat. “Kids are still having sex and they are having sex without protection, which means that they are getting pregnant and transmitting diseases.”
For the sixth straight year, Sinema has authored legislation that would require districts to offer sex education and base it on what she calls medically accurate and comprehensive information. H2361 defines this information as recognized by top organizations and appropriate agencies, based on peer-reviewed research and stemming from research conducted by scientific methods.
The measure would require schools to offer sex education programs from kindergarten through 12th grade with age-appropriate information on topics such as human development, relationships, decision-making, abstinence, contraception and disease prevention.
Upon request by a school district the Arizona Department of Health Services or Department of Education would review sex education instruction materials to assess their medical accuracy.
Under the bill, which has yet to be scheduled for committee action, parents would be allowed to have their children excused from sex education.
Arizona is among 22 states with standards requiring public schools with sex education programs to stress abstinence, according to a recent study by the Guttmacher Institute, nonprofit group that conducts sexual and reproductive research.
State Department of Education standards say schools offering sex education should urge students to abstain from sexual intercourse until adulthood, emphasize that abstinence is the only certain way to avoid pregnancy and stress that sexually transmitted diseases have severe consequences.
Sinema said emphasizing abstinence encourages lessons that aim to scare kids out of having sex, sometimes by offering information that isn’t medically accurate, such as the effectiveness of contraceptives.
“I think it’s really dangerous to teach kids that condoms don’t work because they do work,” Sinema said. “If you teach kids that condoms don’t work then they are going to have risky sex … get pregnant and transmit disease to each other.”
Cronkite News Services left two phone messages seeking comment from Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne but didn’t receive a response by early Wednesday evening.
Sinema’s bill also would amend a law requiring education about HIV dangers to deal with sexually transmitted diseases in general, and it would get rid of a restriction against schools portraying homosexuality in a positive light while teaching about HIV.
“In no way should a school be assisting in the transmission of information which is inaccurate and prejudiced against one group of people,” said Sinema, who is openly bisexual.
Janice Palmer, director of government relations for the Arizona School Boards Association, said she supports providing medically accurate information but said the state shouldn’t decide how or whether school districts address sex education.
“Our biggest issue is that it needs to be a local decision about whether sex education is offered or not,” Palmer said.
Cathi Herrod, president of Center for Arizona Policy, a research and education group that supports abstinence-only education, also said the decision should be made locally.
“The state doesn’t need to be telling school districts what to do on sex education,” Herrod said.
Michelle Steinberg, the director of public policy for Planned Parenthood Arizona, said comprehensive sex education programs lower teen pregnancy and curb the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.
“We are not being responsible to our teenagers if we just promote abstinence and don’t give them all the other information they need to keep themselves safe,” Steinberg said.