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Washington: Did You Know?

Did you know that legislators in Washington recently passed legislation establishing comprehensive sex education in public schools?

A research report released by the Healthy Youth Alliance in January 2007 reported significant shortcomings in sex education curricula in Washington's public schools.  Key findings of the report indicate that a sizable portion of districts, 29 percent, did not provide comprehensive sex education. Rather, they provided abstinence-only curricula which taught students that abstinence is the only way to prevent pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases; or they provided abstinence until marriage curricula which taught that all sexual activity outside marriage is harmful.  In districts with restriction on content, 30 percent did not allow teachers to discuss condoms or contraception in class.

However, in late 2007 the Washington state legislature passed the Healthy Youth Act.  Under the act, all schools that teach sex education must follow the Guidelines for Sexual Health Information and Disease Prevention released by the Washington State Department of Health and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction on January 13, 2005.  The guidelines require the schools to provide medically accurate, age-appropriate and culturally appropriate information, and to focus on both abstinence and contraception in their sex-education curricula. 

Almost half of all teens United States are sexually active in high school.  One-third of sexually active teenage girls become pregnant before they reach age 20.  Each year, four million teens nationwide contract a sexually transmitted disease.  Teaching teens about abstinence is a critical part of a well-rounded and effective sex education program, but abstinence by itself is not sufficient.  Young people deserve complete and accurate information about their reproductive health, including abstinence, pregnancy prevention, and STD/HIV prevention.  Only when teens have reliable information about their reproductive health can they make informed and appropriate decisions.

Jordie Ricigliano, New Sex Ed Guidelines to Take Effect Next School Year, Yakima Herald-Republic, June 17, 2008; Alison Peters, Sex Education In Washington Public Schools: Are Students Learning What They Need to Know?, Healthy Youth Alliance (Jan. 2007);  Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), U.S. Teen Sexual Activity Factsheet (Jan. 2005); Washington State Department of Health and the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, Guidelines for Sexual Health Information and Disease Prevention (Jan. 2005).

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