Frequently Asked Questions on SB 3310 & HB 3621

WARNING: "Question 5" below contains graphic descriptions of sexual acts. Parents are cautioned. (Read the bill details at our Legislation Tracking Page.)

Sex Education in Schools (SB 3310 and HB 3621)

1. What do SB 3310 and HB 3621 do?

This bill replaces current law governing sex education programs in schools (called Family Life Curriculum in the law) to make clear that such programs are abstinence-centered. It will make clear that such programs are to equip students with factually and medically accurate information, presents them with the health, economic and societal benefits of refraining from non-marital sexual activity, and encourages them to engage in self-regulation, goal-setting, and future orientation. It further prevents programs that promote or condone “gateway sexual activities,” which are sexual activities that put the student at risk of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. In essence the law will do what the original law was supposed to do, namely promote the optimum health outcome for children.

As under current law, the bill does not mandate sex education in school districts unless a county has an annual pregnancy rate among adolescents higher than a stated amount. A school district that mandatorily or voluntarily implements sex education can either develop its own family life curriculum in conformance with curriculum guidelines established by the state department of education or adopt the family life curriculum developed by the department.

The bill further provides that parents must be notified prior to a district commencing instruction on the family life curriculum and given the right to examine instructional materials. As under current law, a parent can also opt-out their child from any portion of the instruction.

Finally, the bill contains accountability provisions not found under current law. A parent of a student taking the family life instruction can file a complaint with the school about a school faculty member or outside instructor or organization that violates state law. The new law would require an investigation by the Director of Schools and a report, including any disciplinary recommendations, to the school board. The action of the school board on those complaints is to be timely reported to the commissioner of education, and the commissioner must annually transmit those reports to the General Assembly’s education committees. Additionally, a parent can sue an outside instructor or organization (other than a school faculty member) that promotes or condones gateway sexual activity or exposes students to actual or simulated sex acts. If the parent prevails, in addition to any actual damages and attorney’s fees awarded to the parent, the court may also impose a civil fine not to exceed $500 on the instructor or organization. A teacher, instructor or organization who answers in good faith a question relevant to the course is not subject to any disciplinary or legal actions. The law does not apply to the scientific study of human reproduction in biology, anatomy or health classes.

Additional information on the components of family life curriculum can be found at this FAQ.

13. I’ve also heard about “abstinence-centered sex education.” What is it?

Abstinence-centered sex education addresses the whole person regarding sexuality issues. Its philosophy is that adolescent sexual activity is inherently risky but teens can make the healthiest choice – abstinence – if empowered with knowledge and skills.  These skills include identifying healthy and unhealthy relationships; accurately understanding contraceptive choices, their risks, and STD’s; setting goals for the future; healthy decision-making; character building; and understanding why abstinence until marriage is optimal.  Its message and teaching is much more inclusive than “just say no” as its approach is both comprehensive and holistic. ((Abstinence Works 2010, Correcting Misinformation in the Sex Ed Debate, and The Need for Continued Support for Abstinence-Centered Education, National Abstinence Education Association.))

2. Is teen sex a major problem in Tennessee?

Yes. In 2007, the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury issued a report on Tennessee’s sex education program known as “family life education.” ((Family Life Education in Tennessee, Offices of Research and Education Accountability, Comptroller of the Treasury, State of Tennessee, April 2007.  Accessed at: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/familylife2007.pdf.)) That report listed the following statistics about teen sex in Tennessee:

  • In an average class of 30 Tennessee high school seniors, 21 (69 percent) have had sex and nine have had four or more partners.
  • In 2005, Tennessee ranked 8th worst in chlamydia rates, 13th worst in gonorrhea rates, and had the 12th highest AIDS rate in the nation.
  • The highest teen pregnancy rates are still in the South. One study estimated that the costs to Tennessee of teen childbearing were $181 million in 2004 alone.
  • Compared to the national average (47 percent), more Tennessee children (55 percent) are engaging in sexual activity.
  • Tennessee children are having sex at younger ages. Twelve percent of 9th graders had sex for the first time before the age of 13 compared to eight percent of 12th graders. ((3. Family Life Education in Tennessee, Offices of Research and Education Accountability, Comptroller of the Treasury, State of Tennessee, April 2007, pages i, 1 and 2.  Accessed at: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/familylife2007.pdf.))

3. Why are SB 3310 and HB 3621 needed in Tennessee?

This bill is needed for several reasons.  First, some school districts base their sex education programs upon “comprehensive sex ed” curriculums.  These curriculums tend to be extremely comprehensive in terms of describing (and promoting) different types of sexual activity; however, they are anything but comprehensive in dealing with the non-sexual consequences from engaging in premarital sexual activity, and they have not been successful in reducing teen sex. The failure of “comprehensive sex ed” is explained in this FAQ. Abstinence-centered curriculums focus on the whole person.  They help students understand the health, economic and societal benefits of refraining from non-marital sex, encourage students to engage in goal-setting, and do not promote “gateway” sexual activities have proven to be much more successful. Abstinence-centered programs are explained in this FAQ, and their success is described in this FAQ.

Second, as explained in the next FAQ, Tennessee’s school districts have been developing their own sex education programs with little guidance from the state.  As a result, although state law currently emphasizes abstinence until marriage in general terms as one of several focuses of such programs, less than half of the school districts responding to a major survey listed it as one of their three main goals in their individual programs.  One organization authorized to teach sex education in Knox County mentions abstinence only two or three times in its detailed, 55 page curriculum for its course. ((Planned Parenthood of Middle and Eastern Tennessee, Knox County sex education curriculum, accessed at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/mid-east-tennesee/files/MiddleandEastTennessee/Knox_County_Lesson_Plans.pdf.  See also http://www.plannedparenthood.org/mid-east-tennesee/setting-record-straight-35938.htm where it refers to this document as “our Knox County approved curriculum” and “what we teach in the classrooms.”))

Third, while current law provides that such programs “shall emphasize abstinence from sexual relations outside of marriage,” ((Tennessee Code Sections 49-6-1301(b) and 49-6-1302(a)2).))the terms “abstinence” and “sexual relations” are not defined.  As a result, an instructor currently could teach all types of sexual activity to students but vaginal intercourse and say that he or she is complying with the law.  And fourth, under current law there is no accountability if an instructor or outside organization teaches a sex education class in violation of the standards set forth in the law.

The deficiencies in the current law are dramatically demonstrated by two real-life situations: (1) a sex education course given at Hillsboro High School in Nashville (See this FAQ) and (2) Planned Parenthood, which promotes all types of sexual activity to teens except intercourse, teaching sex education courses in Tennessee schools. (See this FAQ)

4. How has current sex ed. law been interpreted and applied by local school districts?

Tennessee’s current law places the burden on the state board of education to establish curriculum guidelines for family life (sex education) programs that a school district can use in devising its own program. ((Tennessee Code Section 49-6-1301(a).)) The board is also required to develop “a complete plan of family life instruction” for school districts that do not develop their own program. ((Tennessee Code Section 49-6-1302(a).)) But between little guidance and ambiguity in current state law along with the lack of specific curriculum guidelines and instructional plans from the state board, school districts have developed widely varying sex education programs of their own.  The Tennessee Comptroller’s 2007 report was highly critical of the current situation: “There is no clear definition of Family Life Education in Tennessee …Therefore, LEA’s [Local Education Agencies] have formed their own goals for family life education…. a state-level Family Life Education plan does not exist.”   ((Family Life Education in Tennessee, Offices of Research and Education Accountability, Comptroller of the Treasury, State of Tennessee, April 2007, page i.  Accessed at: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/familylife2007.pdf.))

Additionally, current law states that a family life education program should emphasize “abstinence from sexual relations outside of marriage.” ((Tennessee Code Sections 49-6-1301(b) and 49-6-1302(a)2).)) But little guidance is given on that subject by state law and the state department of education, and the Comptroller’s report reflects that many school districts are not emphasizing abstinence until marriage.  The Comptroller conducted a survey of the 136 school districts in the state, and only 44% of the 85 districts that responded chose “promoting sexual abstinence until marriage” as one of their three main goals for their program. ((Family Life Education in Tennessee, Offices of Research and Education Accountability, Comptroller of the Treasury, State of Tennessee, April 2007, Exhibit 5 on page 10.  Accessed at: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/familylife2007.pdf.)) Further, as the terms “abstinence” and “sexual relations” are not defined, some sex ed programs and instructors are currently teaching that “abstinence” means only refraining from sexual intercourse.

The Comptroller’s report further found that the overwhelming majority (75%) of the districts bring in outside volunteers to teach the family life course, and the classroom teacher often uses her or his own discretion to determine which outside instructors will teach family life education. ((Family Life Education in Tennessee, Offices of Research and Education Accountability, Comptroller of the Treasury, State of Tennessee, April 2007, page 15.  Accessed at: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/familylife2007.pdf.))

Finally, at least one school has used the state law requirement that sex ed classes include a component on “the nature and prevention of AIDS” as a springboard to go far beyond that requirement and promote homosexuality, transgenderism (e.g., cross-dressing), and gay rights to students along with negatively portraying those who only believe in heterosexual relations.


5. What happened at Hillsboro High School in Nashville?

WARNING: This FAQ contains graphically explicit descriptions of sexual acts.  

In the spring of 2010, Nashville CARES, an AIDS awareness and education program, taught a sex education class in a “Developing Community Leaders” (DCL) course at Hillsboro High School.  The DCL course had a service learning requirement and its teacher decided to fulfill that requirement through a program developed by Nashville CARES for teenagers called the “Survivor Club.”  While Nashville CARES says the mission of Survivor Club “is to educate youth on HIV/AIDS prevention,” it actually encompasses much more including how to engage in “safer sex” and avoid other sexually transmitted diseases. The Nashville CARES representative was invited to lead the class by the DCL teacher, and at least one student was allowed to sit in without having submitted a signed consent form from her parent.  According to media reports at the time, Nashville CARES had also taught this program at about a half-dozen other high schools in the Metro Nashville area.

Using anatomically correct models, the Nashville CARES leader showed the students how to perform oral sex on a man’s genitalia. Additionally, the leader discussed anal sex, told the girls to taste their vagina, and recommended that students masturbate frequently.

WARNING: The following video is a description of what took place at a Nashville area high school and contains a graphic description of a sexual act. Suitable for mature viewers only.

Handouts on how to engage in “safer sex” were distributed to the students.  One handout, titled “Tips for Safer & Smarter Sex,” described abstinence as follows: “Abstinence is actually the most effective way to protect against STIs and prevent pregnancy.  But practicing abstinence doesn’t mean you can’t have an intimate physical relationship with someone – it just means you don’t have vaginal or anal intercourse. There are many other ways to be intimate and not have intercourse – just be aware that alternatives, like oral sex, carry their own risks.”

The Nashville CARES representative also did a segment on homosexual and transgender lifestyles. ((It’s not clear how this segment of the class was related to the stated purpose of the Nashville Cares presentation.  Its description of the Survivor Club training states: “Nashville CARES provides Survivor Club© (SC) education certification programming for local area teenagers who hope to reduce the spread of HIV among their families, friends and peers. They do this through one on one, group and media programming addressing behavioral change determinants which they learn through SC certification. Among the skills they learn are: HIV knowledge, attitude, beliefs and behaviors that put themselves and others at risk for HIV infection and how to impact them; one on one educational skills; group presentation skills; public health intervention documentation; HIV counseling and testing skills; program organization and development; media development; community mobilization; life skills regarding values, safer sex, and decision making.”))

Several of the slides she used promoted the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) agenda.  For example, one slide stated: “Gay pride (PRIDE) has three main premises: People should be proud of their sexual orientation and gender identity; Sexual diversity is a gift; [and] Sexual orientation and gender identity are inherent and cannot be intentionally altered.”  Handouts included “Being an Ally” that discussed how students could advocate for LGBT issues and instructed them that in their “day to day routine” they could help by doing the following:

  • “Use inclusive language like partner or date rather than boyfriend/girlfriend or wife/husband.”
  • “Make sure peer education programs are not heteronormative and include information and resources for LGBT as well.”  (“Heteronormativity” is defined in the handout as “the reinforcement of the assumption that heterosexuality is the only normal sexual orientation by many social institutions and social policies.”)

The “Being an Ally” handout also instructed students how they could take a “public stand” which included:

  • “Wear a button such as ‘I support gay rights.’”
  • “Promote gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender nondiscrimination policies.”
  • “Organize to get more resources on your campus or community: …lesbian and gay studies courses/program; pro-lesbian/gay counselors; gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender speakers, cultural events, etc.”

Another handout called “Sexual Expression” recommended several things to students that support LGBT initiatives such as introducing “trainings, readings, and other resources … to deconstruct social norms around gender, sex, and sexual orientation” and “talk to campus officials about the Gender Neutral Bathrooms….”

6. Does Planned Parenthood teach sex education courses in Tennessee and/or provide input regarding them?

Yes and yes.  Planned Parenthood is involved in both teaching sex education and providing input to schools.  For example, until this school year, Planned Parenthood was an approved presenter of such courses in the Knox County (Knoxville) schools. ((Accessed at: http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?S=13873857.  A Knox County School spokesperson noted that, “Planned Parenthood is currently recognized by the state and locally as a community resource agency with a reviewed presentation appropriate for the state mandated curriculum.”  Planned Parenthood responded that it “provides age-appropriate, medically-accurate sex education programming.  The curriculum we use has been reviewed and approved by professionals from the Knox County School District.”  It also has launched an online campaign to encourage viewers to call school district employees and tell them they “support comprehensive sexuality education and Planned Parenthood in Knox County high schools.”  Accessed at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/mid-east-tennesee/setting-record-straight-35938.htm.)) In October 2010, it led a sex education class at Hardin Valley Academy, a Knox County high school.  Notification letters informing parents in advance of the class were not sent home. ((Accessed at: http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?S=13873857.)) Although Planned Parenthood or school officials indicated that its presentation would include abstinence, none of its presentation actually did so according to one student. ((Accessed at: http://dioknox.org/etcnews/no-%E2%80%98right-or-wrong%E2%80%99/.)) Planned Parenthood’s failure to discuss abstinence is consistent with its detailed, 55 page curriculum for the course which makes only a few, brief references to abstinence. ((Planned Parenthood of Middle and Eastern Tennessee, Knox County sex education curriculum, accessed at:Link is broken http://www.plannedparenthood.org/mid-east-tennesee/files/MiddleandEastTennessee/Knox_County_Lesson_Plans.pdf.  See also http://www.plannedparenthood.org/mid-east-tennesee/setting-record-straight-35938.htm where it refers to this document as “our Knox County approved curriculum” and “what we teach in the classrooms.”))

During the class, Planned Parenthood gave out links to its websites. ((Accessed at: http://www.wate.com/Global/story.asp?S=13873857.)) As discussed in the next FAQ, Planned Parenthood’s national website recommends “outercourse” for teens which, as its name implies, encompasses virtually every type of sexual activity other than intercourse.

Planned Parenthood also provides input to the Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS) through its participation on the Adolescent Sexual Responsibility (ASR) committee of Alignment Nashville.  This committee provides “MNPS students with accurate information for sexually responsible decisions” and “at the request of MNPS, [it] designed a full day professional development workshop for High School … Sexuality Education teachers.”  It also provided MNPS with an ”Adolescent Sexual Responsibility Lifetime Wellness Resource Guide.” ((Alignment Nashville’s 2010 Annual Report, pages 23-24, accessed at: http://alignmentnashville.org/results. ))

One of the ASR’s members, who attended all of ASR’s meetings last year, is Kayce Matthews, the Senior Director of Education and Training at Planned Parenthood of Middle and East Tennessee.  As shown in ASR’s minutes, Ms. Matthews has been a very active participant during its meetings. ((Accessed at: http://alignmentnashville.org/committee-minutes/ASR-Minutes.))

Additionally, Planned Parenthood provides sexuality education training courses for Tennessee educators.  Its flyer for its Spring 2011 course, led by Ms. Matthews and other PP staff, states that “this intensive 3.5 day course will equip professionals with the knowledge, skills, and comfort needed to provide quality sexuality education.” ((Accessed at: http://www.ppaction.org/site/Calendar?id=100381&view=Detail&__utma=1.2087483973.1287784923.1297973569.1297975769.13&__utmb=1.9.10.1297975769&__utmc=1&__utmx=-&__utmz=1.1297975769.13.31.utmcsr=google|utmccn=(organic)|utmcmd=organic|utmctr=Planned%20Parenthood%20of%20Middle%20and%20East%20Tennessee&__utmv=-&__utmk=120008456.))

7. What is Planned Parenthood’s approach to sex and adolescents?

Planned Parenthood’s approach to teens about sex is simple: anything goes, just don’t contract a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and use condoms if you don’t want to get pregnant.  Its “Info for Teens” website contains detailed, graphic information about various ways to engage in sexual activity. ((Accessed at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/info-for-teens/sex-masturbation/what-sex-33828.htm.))

But it gets worse.  On their “Take Care Down There” website, they have teenage girls and guys along with an adult discussing topics such as “I Didn’t Spew” (two boys and the adult discussing oral sex on males), “Hot and Heavy,” “Threesome,” and the “Down There Song” among others. ((http://www.takecaredownthere.org/#/watch/bring-your-sister/.))

Planned Parenthood also recommends “outercourse” for teens as a method of birth control.  According to its website, outercourse is “[s]ex play that keeps sperm out of the vagina to prevent pregnancy” ((Accessed at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/outercourse-4371.htm.)) – essentially anything except intercourse.  The website lists many “benefits” of outercourse and promotes it as “simple, convenient and free.”  Planned Parenthood emphasizes its “Advantages for Teens: Outercourse can completely satisfy both partners and take a lot of pressure off young women and men. Outercourse helps partners learn about their bodies and how to give themselves and each other sexual pleasure.” As for how does a teen have outercourse, Planned Parenthood describes “sex toys,” “oral sex play”, “anal sex play” and “fantasy” among other activities. ((Accessed at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-topics/birth-control/outercourse-4371.htm.  Another brochure called “Happy, Healthy, Hot,” published by the International Planned Parenthood Federation and which discusses sexual activity for young people living with HIV, contains equally if not more graphic suggestions and descriptions of sexual activity.  See http://www.ippf.org/NR/rdonlyres/B4462DDE-487D-4194-B0E0-193A04095819/0/HappyHealthyHot.pdf.)) (Warning: the information at this link is graphic but it is the description of “outercourse” from the national Planned Parenthood website.)

In Tennessee, the President of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region recently said that sex education “should start in kindergarten and be every year through the 12th grade.” ((Accessed at: http://www.wmctv.com/Global/story.asp?S=13840482.))

8. How does being sexually active as a teenager instead of abstaining from sex affect the teenager’s well-being?

Numerous studies have shown that being sexually active as a teenager, whether or not it results in pregnancy, has serious detrimental effects on the individual.  When it does result in pregnancy and childbirth, the results can be devastating upon mother and child.  The Tennessee Comptroller, citing various studies, listed several detrimental outcomes in his 2007 report:

  • Less than a third of teenage mothers earn a high school diploma, which affects their ability to get a well-paying job and increases their dependency on welfare.
  • Teen fathers earn 10 to 15 percent less than men who do not have children during their teen years, and are also less likely to obtain a high school diploma.
  • Children of teen moms are often less healthy, yet receive only half the level of medical care and treatment of children born to non-teens. They are also less likely to grow up in homes with fathers, and more likely to be physically abused, abandoned, or neglected.
  • These children typically score lower on cognitive development and standardized tests, are less successful in school, and hence are less likely to earn their high school diplomas.
  • The daughters of adolescent mothers are more likely to become adolescent mothers themselves, and teenage sons of adolescent mothers are almost three times more likely to end up in prison. ((Family Life Education in Tennessee, Offices of Research and Education Accountability, Comptroller of the Treasury, State of Tennessee, April 2007, page 3.  Accessed at: http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/familylife2007.pdf.))

There are also serious effects upon teenagers from sexual activities that do not result in pregnancy, such as “outercourse” recommended by Planned Parenthood.  Data from a national survey funded by 17 federal agencies showed that “[w]hen compared to sexually active teens, those who abstain from sexual activity during high school years are:

Further, teens who engage in sexual activity are at an increased risk of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts. ((Denise Holfers, et al., “Adolescent Depression and Suicide Risk: Association with Sex and Drug Behavior,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 27, No. 3, 2004.  Accessed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15450635.))

And a new study of 2,035 married couples found that couples who reserved sex until marriage: (1) rated sexual quality 15% higher than people who had premarital sex; (2) rated relationship stability 22% higher; and (3) rated satisfaction with their relationships 20% higher. ((Accessed at: http://www.webmd.com/sex-relationships/news/20101227/theres-benefits-in-delaying-sex-until-marriage.  See also http://www.livescience.com/10935-delaying-sex-relationships-study-finds.html.))

9. Do sexually active teenagers affect society as a whole?

Yes.  The Tennessee Comptroller’s 2007 report, referenced in prior FAQ’s, cited a “comprehensive study of adolescent childbearing costs” which found that “teen pregnancy costs U.S. taxpayers about $6.9 billion each year in public assistance benefits, medical care expenses, prison costs, foster care, and lost tax revenue.”  The Comptroller’s report also referred to a 2006 analysis by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy that estimated the U.S. public costs from teen childbearing at $9.1 billion.  For Tennessee, the study estimated such costs to be $181 million in 2004 alone.  Finally, the Comptroller’s report noted that “[O]ther social and health costs also result that may not be easily measured in taxpayer dollars.” ((Family Life Education in Tennessee, Offices of Research and Education Accountability, Comptroller of the Treasury, State of Tennessee, April 2007, page 3.  Accessed at:  http://www.comptroller1.state.tn.us/repository/RE/familylife2007.pdf.))

10. What are some of the key components of the abstinence-centered curriculum required by SB 3310 and HB 3621?

An abstinence-centered curriculum encourages risk avoidance rather than mere risk reduction by equipping students with factually and medically accurate information, presenting them with the health, economic and societal benefits of refraining from non-marital sexual activity, explaining how sexual intimacy affects the whole person — emotionally, psychologically, and physically, and encouraging them to engage in self-regulation and goal-setting.  Under the bill, to the extent the topic and manner of communication is age-appropriate, an abstinence-centered curriculum will:

  1. Exclusively and emphatically promote sexual risk avoidance through abstinence;
  2. Encourage sexual health by helping students understand how sexual activity affects a person as a whole;
  3. Teach the positive results of abstaining from sexual activity, the skills needed to make healthy decisions, the advantages of and skills for student success in pursuing life goals, and the social science research supporting the benefits of reserving the expression of human sexual activity for marriage;
  4. Provide factually and medically accurate information;
  5. Teach students how to form pro-social habits that will enable them to develop healthy relationships, create strong marriages, and form stable future families;
  6. Encourage students to communicate with a parent or other trusted adult about the advantages of abstaining from sex;
  7. Assist students in learning and practicing sexual refusal skills;
  8. Address the benefits of raising children within a marital relationship and the unique challenges that teen parents encounter regarding educational, psychological, physical, social, legal, and financial factors;
  9. Discuss the interrelationship between premature sexual activity and exposure to other risk behaviors such as smoking, underage drinking, drug use, criminal activity, dating violence, and sexual aggression;
  10. Educate students on teenage pregnancy and childbirth, sexually transmitted diseases, and the financial and emotional responsibility of raising a child; and
  11. Teach students how to identify and form healthy relationships, and avoid unhealthy ones.

The curriculum will not include the promotion of sexual activities that increase the likelihood of an adolescent engaging in sexual intercourse, or health messages that encourage students to consider sexual activity.  Nor can the presenter display or conduct demonstrations with devices manufactured specifically for sexual stimulation.

11. I’ve heard a lot about “comprehensive sex education” in some schools. What is it?

“Comprehensive” sex education (CSE) and the kind of sex education required under this bill are driven by two very different philosophical approaches.  CSE assumes that teens don’t have the ability to avoid sexual activity and avoid the risk of pregnancy or unwanted sexually transmitted diseases.  As a result, CSE focuses almost entirely on sexual acts and the use of condoms and other forms of contraception to reduce risks.  In a major study by the federal Department of Health and Human Services, the authors noted that CSE curriculum focus on three areas: “(1) how to obtain protective devices (e.g. condoms), (2) how to broach a discussion on introducing these devices in a relationship, and (3) how to correctly use the devices.” ((Review of Comprehensive Sex Education Curricula, The Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), May 2007, page 6.))

Since CSE is focused on minimizing physical consequences from sex such as pregnancy and STD’s (“risk reduction”), adolescent sexual activity is not viewed with the requisite degree of concern for potentially serious physical harms that can result nor does CSE recognize any negative emotional consequences.  Value-based discussions are generally avoided and other than pregnancy and STD’s, instruction about the various effects on the teen, both short-term and long-term, is almost non-existent.

The label “comprehensive sex education” is a true misnomer.  Proponents claim that it includes teaching on abstinence but it’s rare that abstinence gets more than a passing mention in CSE courses.  One review of CSE curriculum showed that on average, only about 5% of their time is devoted to abstinence. ((Correcting Misinformation in the Sex Ed Debate, National Abstinence Education Association.  Accessed at: http://www.abstinenceassociation.org/faqs/index.html.))

The Department of Health and Human Services study observed that of the nine CSE curriculums it reviewed, “the curriculum with the most balanced discussion of abstinence and safer-sex still discussed condoms and contraception nearly seven times morethan abstinence.” ((Review of Comprehensive Sex Education Curricula, The Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), May 2007, page 6.))

The CSE curriculum that was being used by Planned Parenthood in Knoxville to teach a sex education class makes only a few, brief references to abstinence in its detailed, 55 page curriculum. ((Planned Parenthood of Middle and Eastern Tennessee, Knox County sex education curriculum, accessed at: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/mid-east-tennesee/files/MiddleandEastTennessee/Knox_County_Lesson_Plans.pdf.  See also http://www.plannedparenthood.org/mid-east-tennesee/setting-record-straight-35938.htm.))

12. Does “comprehensive sex education” work?

No.  In 2007, the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services conducted a study of CSE curricula to explore their effectiveness.  The report concluded: “Research on the effectiveness of nine commonly used comprehensive sex education curricula demonstrates that, while such curricula show small positive impacts on increasing condom use among youth, only a couple of curricula show impacts on delaying sexual debut; moreover, effects most often disappear over time.”  The report further noted that only “two [curriculum] showed some positive impacts on delay of sexual initiation” and “most often the impacts do not extend [beyond] three or six months after a curriculum has been used.” ((Review of Comprehensive Sex Education Curricula, The Administration for Children and Families, Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), May 2007, page 8-9.))

Another study of CSE programs by the Institute for Research & Evaluation found that “[s]chool-based CSE programs have shown no evidence of effectiveness at decreasing teen pregnancy or STDs, or increasing consistent condom use.” ((Accessed at: http://instituteresearch.com/docs/Another_Look_at_the_Evidence_(IRE,_05-13-09).pdf.))

The failure of CSE is further evidenced by the fact that CSE has received from 12 to 16 times more government funding than abstinence-centered sex education; ((The National Abstinence Education Association has estimated that in fiscal year 2010, the ratio was 16:1.  The Need for Continued Support for Abstinence-Centered Education, National Abstinence Education Association, footnotes 1 and 6.  A Heritage Foundation report in 2004 placed the ratio at 12:1.)) that schools have taught CSE over abstinence-centered education by a factor of 2 or 3 to 1; ((Correcting Misinformation in the Sex Ed Debate, National Abstinence Education Association.  Accessed at: http://www.abstinenceassociation.org/faqs/index.html. )) but yet the incidence of sexually transmitted diseases (STD’s) among teens is at an alarmingly high rate.  A major report in 2008 by the federal Centers for Disease Control revealed that one of every four teenage girls had at least one STD.  Almost 50% of African-American girls had an STD, while the rate among girls who admitted to being sexually active was 40 percent. ((Accessed at: http://inthehealth.com/family-health/womens-health/stds-affect-26-percent-female-teens-671.html))

CSE programs clearly have not been effective in reducing STD’s among teens.

14. Does “abstinence-centered sex education” work?

Several studies have shown that abstinence-centered sex education does in fact work.  In early 2010, a landmark study was released.  The authors, who came from a liberal Ivy League university, conducted a study of 662 sixth and seventh graders from a high-risk, African American population.  The study showed that only about one-third of the students who had participated in a weekend abstinence sex education class started having sex within the next 24 months, compared with 42% who were assigned to comprehensive sex-education classes and about 50% who were taught safer sex. ((John B. Jemmott III, PhD; Loretta S. Jemmott, PhD, RN; Geoffrey T. Fong, PhD, Efficacy of a Theory-Based Abstinence-Only Intervention Over 24 Months: A Randomized Controlled Trial With Young Adolescents, Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Vo. 164, No. 2, February 2010.  Accessed at http://archpedi.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/164/2/152?home.))

This result is consistent with other studies.  In 2007, The Heritage Foundation reviewed 21 studies on abstinence education and concluded that “16 of the 21 studies reported statistically significant positive results, such as delayed sexual initiation and reduced levels of early sexual activity, among youths who have received abstinence education.” ((Christine C. Kim and Robert Rector, Abstinence Education: Assessing the Evidence, Executive Summary Backgrounder, The Heritage Foundation, April 22, 2008.  Accessed at: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2008/04/abstinence-education-assessing-the-evidence.))

The National Abstinence Education Association (NAEA), in its publication Abstinence Works 2010, provides detailed summaries of 17 abstinence-centered programs evaluated by independent researchers that have shown statistically significant results in reducing teen sex. ((Abstinence Works 2010, National Abstinence Education Association, 2010.  See also list of studies at http://abstinenceworks.org/evidence-it-works-mainmenu-45))

Finally, the NAEA describes an additional 26 studies and programs from a publication produced by the Department of Health and Human Services that “showed early-stage positive attitudinal impacts that tend to predict decreased sexual initiation rates.” ((Abstinence Works 2010, National Abstinence Education Association, 2010.))

15. What do parents want regarding sex education for their adolescents?

In 2007, research firm Zogby International conducted a survey of 1002 parents of children 10-16 years old to ascertain their knowledge level and beliefs regarding “comprehensive” sex education and abstinence-centered sex education.  The results revealed that:

  • 83% believed it is important for their child to wait until they are married to have sex.
  • 78% believed sex education classes in schools should place more emphasis on promoting abstinence than on condom and other contraceptive use.
  • 94% agreed that sex education classes should let their child know about the potential negative emotional consequences such as worry, regret and guilt that can occur as a result of becoming sexually active.
  • 88% would be more likely to support teaching abstinence education in place of comprehensive sex education if they knew that typical abstinence education courses teach teens how to develop healthy relationships to improve their chances for a healthy future marriage.
  • 86% would be more likely to support teaching abstinence education in place of comprehensive sex education if they knew that typical abstinence education courses teach teens about increasing their self-worth as a method for reducing premarital sexual activity.

After being provided with additional information about what a typical abstinence-centered course teaches, they were then asked, “knowing what you know now, would you rather your child be educated in Comprehensive Sex Education courses, or in Abstinence Education courses?  By a 2:1 margin (61% to 30%), the parents chose abstinence-centered education. ((Zogby International Survey of Nationwide Parents of Children Age 10-16, May 2007.  Copy of survey in FACT’s possession.))

 

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