The Kansas Board of Education voted last week to abandon its one-year-old abstinence-only program in favor of comprehensive sex education. The decision, which was achieved by a 6-3 vote, will mean that sex educators must no longer stress abstinence until marriage and can offer lessons on contraceptives and safe sex. The decision also reversed the state’s mandatory parental permission slips for students to participate in sex education. Now, district officials may choose whether to require formal parental consent for participation in sex education. Board Member Sue Gamble, who supported the new policy, told the Kansas City Star, “It’s teaching kids the only foolproof way of protecting yourself is abstinence. However, it understands that kids need the facts and need information if they choose to become sexually active.”
Massachusetts has also taken steps towards abandoning abstinence-only programs. Governor Deval Patrick (D) has announced that he may reject a $700,000 federal grant that has been given to his state since 1998 to teach abstinence-only classes. The federal funds were tied to rules — such as teaching that sex outside of marriage could have harmful psychological effects — that became increasingly strict, the Boston Globe reports. Massachusetts Commissioner of Public Health John Auerbach told the Globe, in defense of Gov. Patrick’s proposal, “We don’t believe that the science of public health is pointing in the direction of very specific and narrowly defined behavioral approaches like the one that is mandated by this funding.”
Finally, in Washington, Governor Christine Gregoire (D) signed into law on Wednesday a bill that prohibits public schools from teaching abstinence-only sex education. While public schools may decide whether to teach sex education at all, those schools that do must include medically and scientifically accurate information about contraception and safe sex. On the same day, Gov. Gregoire signed a measure that will require public schools to provide information about the human papillomavirus (HPV) and the HPV vaccine.
These three decisions follow a federally commissioned report — released last month by Mathematica Policy Research — that shows that abstinence sex education programs fail to impact the sexual behaviors of participants.