In a ruling the American Civil Liberties Union is calling “historic,” a California court has determined what the Sane Part of America already knew — sex education focusing on abstinence only, rather than actual education, isn’t really sex-ed at all.
Fresno County Superior Court Judge Donald Black concluded that, as the United States faces high rates of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy, students immersed in programs dedicated to pushing abstinence rather than “medically and socially appropriate sexual education” are depriving students of “an important public right.”
Black’s decision only affects about 40,000 students in the Clovis United School District. However, the ACLU feels that, as this is the first ruling on California’s sex education standards, the ruling sets an important precedent for the rest of the state.
“This is the first time that abstinence-only-until-marriage curricula have been found to be medically inaccurate,” Phyllida Burlingame, director of Reproductive Justice Policy for the American Civil Liberties Union, said of the decision.
The sex education program in the district certainly needed some help. SFGate reports that students were taught that made little to no mention of contraceptives, or claimed they were ineffective altogether:
One video, described in Black’s ruling, compared a woman who was not a virgin to a dirty shoe. Other videos “perpetuated sexual orientation bias,” the judge said, including one that encouraged students to adopt the mantra, “One man, one woman, one life.”
The parents dismissed their suit in February 2014 after the district changed its policies. But Black, in a ruling issued April 28, ordered the district to pay attorneys’ fees to the parents’ lawyers, saying the suit had been the catalyst that led Clovis to bring its ninth-grade courses into compliance with the law.
ThinkProgress notes that “A landmark law implemented in 2003 prohibits California schools from providing sex ed courses that contain medically inaccurate or biased information.” While this is one of the strongest sex-ed requirements in the country, ACLU reports found that the law had not been fully implemented across the entire state.
Some districts continued to push inaccurate, abstinence-based “information,” including the Clovis United School District.
“There aren’t any national requirements for comprehensive sex ed instruction in public schools, which allows 19 states to continue to require health materials to emphasize the importance of engaging in sexual activity only within marriage,” ThinkProgress’ Tara Culp-Ressler notes. ” In addition to failing to include information about birth control and condoms, abstinence-only programs typically tell kids that having sex will make them dirty — comparing people who have had sex to chewed up gum, used tape, dirty chocolate, and glasses of spit.”
Perhaps it is time to consider national sex education standards. While some will decry any such thing as an attack on religion or an attempt to destroy America, our children’s health is too important to leave to chance.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.