Comprehensive Sex Education in a Nutshell

There are so many misconceptions when it comes to comprehensive sex education.  And what people don’t understand, they fear.  What they fear, they judge as evil.  What they judge as evil, they attempt to control.  And what they cannot control, they attack or argue against.  It’s a vicious and unproductive cycle.  

Let’s start with some facts. 

In February of 2021, the Illinois General Assembly introduced a bill (0818) reforming sex education in Illinois.  On August 20, 2021, the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act was signed, which calls for reformed curricula that provide personal health and safety education (notice the absence of the word “sex” for these younger students) for grades K-5 and comprehensive sex health education for grades 6-12.  After a year of adopting the National Sex Education Standards (NSES) for Illinois, the Illinois State Board of Education rolled out the curriculum for the school year 2022.  Passage of this new law does NOT override the local decision-making that is granted to each school district, allowing them to opt-in or out of the comprehensive sex education curriculum.  The four differences to keep in mind with Senate Bill 0818 are that it mandates sex education, it reforms the curriculum so that it is in line with the NSES, it requires education to be provided for K-12, and it is inclusive of gender and sexual identities.  Now that last one tends to raise eyebrows and prickle pear roots.  As Kim Cavill, former sex educator and current district D211 board member, explains,

“The hysteria is really about two standards, which represent the only changes being made to the content this district has taught without issue for years.  They are: By the 10th grade students should be able to (1) Differentiate between sex assigned at birth, gender identity, and gender expression and (2) Differentiate between sexual orientation, sexual behavior, and sexual identity.  These standards recognize the existence of queer people, and that’s why we’re witnessing a giant hissy fit.  They don’t encourage teenagers to abandon their religion and change their gender.  They define terms.  Furthermore, I refuse to deny all our teenage students access to basic information about pregnancy and disease prevention in order to soothe some of our neighbor's desperate grief for a world they fear is dying.  Public schools at their best are one of the last remaining institutions in this fractured country where we as communities of young and old, secular and religious, partisan and non-partisan, can learn to live with each other in peace, if we so choose.  A necessary part of that process is deepening our understanding of our neighbors.  Kindness does not require agreement and acknowledging each other’s differences does not compromise anyone’s individual values.”

Well said, Kim!  Let me clear up some other myths about comprehensive sex ed (CSE).

Myth: Comprehensive Sex Education does not promote abstinence.

Fact: Comprehensive sex education emphasizes abstinence as the best and most effective method of avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancy. Comprehensive sex education emphasizes abstinence and provides young people with information about contraception and condoms. Research shows programs that offer both are more effective at helping young people delay sexual initiation.  A 5-year study mandated by the US Congress found that abstinence-only programs have no impact on young people’s sexual behavior and do not help teens delay intercourse.

Myth: Comprehensive Sex Education teaches the mechanics of sex to young people.  

Fact: Remember, comprehensive sex education applies to grades 6-12.  At the younger grade levels, the program is called personal health and safety education so there is little/no mention of sex at those grade levels other than to educate and inform about safe and unsafe touch. In Grades 6-8, there is information about relationships, decision-making, assertiveness, skills to resist peer pressure, emphasis on abstinence, and beginning-level concepts of infection/disease and pregnancy prevention.  Grades 9-12 are provided with more in-depth information about the above.  Nowhere in the curriculum are there lessons teaching the mechanics of sex.

Myth: Comprehensive Sex Education encourages children not to tell their parents what they are being taught.

Fact:  Research shows that 52% of kids most want to hear about sex from their parents (despite adults guessing that kids would say, peers).  Instructors are here to give age and culturally appropriate medically accurate, inclusive, trauma-informed education that aligns with the National Sex Education standards.  Only the family unit can frame these conversations through the lens of their family values.  Students are encouraged to share their learning with parents and other trusted adults.

Some people feel sexuality should be taught at home and not at school.  In a perfect world, each child would be blessed with loving, educated parents who were fully equipped to have these important and necessary conversations throughout their childhood and early adulthood.  But until then, schools should be equipped to step in and provide the basic framework and foundation to shape these skills.  Values should NOT be taught at school, however.  Whenever I’m asked a values-based question in class, I employ Wendy Sellars SOY formula: Some people believe XYZ, Others do not. If You are trying to decide what you believe, talking to a parent or trusted adult is the best way to learn about your own family’s values.

Some parents say students should only get a lesson or two when they are old enough, like high school.  Hold my beer.  Let’s say your kid wants to be an engineer.  Do we give them one trigonometry lesson in the 12th grade before they head off to college?  No, of course not.  We start as early as preschool with identifying numbers.  And then, we teach addition and subtraction and multiplication.  And then, we layer on division and fractions, and basic algebra.  Next comes geometry, calculus, and trigonometry.  Not all of our kids will become engineers, but most, if not all, of our children will someday be part of a sexual relationship. 

These lessons that will shape them into sexually healthy adults need to start from an early age (before it even looks or sounds like sex ed) and build appropriately throughout their adolescent journey.  It is not a one-and-done lesson.

Other arguments I have heard include the famous “Let kids be kids.” 

As the mother of 3 children, I’m always walking the line between helping them develop into self-sufficient and healthy adults and fighting off the modern culture that wants them to grow up too fast, so I get it.  But I refuse to shelter my kids from these critical conversations to protect their innocence at the expense of negatively impacting their sexual IQ as adults.  Maybe that’s just me, and that’s why all parents have a right to “opt-out” of this sort of education. 

But I urge you to ask yourself why you are opting out.  If your decision is motivated by fear, do some research, consider working on your own possibly negative and shameful belief systems surrounding sex, and devise a plan to educate your kids at home about essential topics like consent, sexual and reproductive health, and appreciating gender differences.  You owe it to them, and we all need to do our part to help pave the way for a healthier sexual future for our youth.


50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.