Wisconsin’s state legislature has passed a "sex education" bill that undoes many of the tenets in the more progressive 2010 bill, and it now moves on to Governor Scott Walker, who is likely to sign it. The new sex education law:
1) Transforms sex education "requirements" into "recommendations"
2) Removes the following topics from sex ed curriculum recommendations
"pregnancy; parenting; body image; gender stereotypes; and the health benefits, side effects, and proper use of contraceptives and barrier methods approved by the federal Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) to prevent pregnancy and barrier methods approved by the
FDA to prevent sexually transmitted infections"
3) Requires that students be taught that abstinence is the "preferred choice of behavior for unmarried pupils" and "the only reliable way to present pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections."
4) Requires the promotion of the socioeconomic benefits of marriage and the connection between marriage and good parenting.
In short, the bill takes Wisconsin’s requirement that sex education programs teach about contraception, and turns it into a requirement that they teach about abstinence.
Conservatives in Wisconsin have never liked 2010’s Healthy Youth Act. In fact, one county’s district attorney sent a letter to teachers of the district threatening to prosecute them if they taught comprehensive sex ed.
But while the new law isn’t a surprise, it’s certainly a disappointment. The removal of instruction about contraception is bad. But calling abstinence "the only reliable" means of prevention is simply a lie. Firstly, many methods of protection work and work well. The IUD is over 99% effective at preventing pregnancy, while condoms are "highly effective" at preventing the transmission of HIV, according to the CDC.
Secondly, reliability is largely dependent on the user. The user must RELIABLY USE a method. Abstinence is very reliable if you remain abstinent. Condoms are very reliable if you use them consistently and correctly. By removing information about other methods, and by implying that they are unreliable, the legislators are doing young people a severe disservice: they are endangering young people’s health and violating their rights.
Further, as we tried to communicate in this video, abstinence-only-until-marriage lessons at best exclude LGBT youth and at worst vilify them. Wisconsin has a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, yet students will be taught that abstinence is the "preferred behavior" for unmarried students. Just….forever, Wisconsin? So it’s basically just a program of shaming for LGBT students – "stay abstinent" or "do wrong." That seems contrary to the section of the bill that cautions against bias against students on the basis of sexual orientation. And not to mention, almost half of high school students have already had sex, so it’s a program of shame for them too.
Finally, a "promotion of marriage" tenet is profoundly offensive and presumptuous. Why should that value be forced on students? In a nation where 50% of marriages fail and 50% of pregnancies are unplanned, how many of Wisconsin’s students will be taught that their families are subpar, inferior to the married-heterosexual parents their sex education teacher is so keen on? And why is promoting a particular type of relationship even an aspect of learning about sex and sexuality?
Students shouldn’t be misled, lied to, and stigmatized. They shouldn’t be denied information that could save their lives. This shame-based bill is shameful.