In the recent November election, Washington voters approved Referendum-90, which means that Senate Bill 5395 can take effect, and Washington public schools will now be mandated to provide comprehensive sexual education to their students. This bill has created a lot of controversy among Washington voters, and it seems like some of this controversy might be rooted in a lack of understanding of what this bill will actually mean for Washington students.
Comprehensive sexual education operates with the goal of teaching students about a number of topics related to sexuality, values around those topics, and skills needed to develop healthy relationships and make decisions about sexual health. It covers a vast array of information, including development, sexual behavior, and cultural influence on gender and sex. Senate Bill 5395 means that Washington public schools will be required to provide comprehensive sexual health education to grades 6 – 12 beginning next school year, and grades K – 5 the following year. Below, I will outline some of the misconceptions around the new sex education plan here in Washington.
Myth: Children will receive sexually explicit information that is not age-appropriate.
Fact: Students will be taught curriculum that is suited for their age group, and not all material will be explicitly centered around sex. All K – 12 health education standards are determined to be age-appropriate based on standards set by multiple organizations, such as American School Health Association. In grades K – 3, the curriculum will only focus on social and emotional learning. According to the Washington Superintendent’s Office, this means that students in grades K – 3 will learn about managing emotions, setting goals, building relationships, and making decisions.
Myth: Parents will not know what information their children receive in school.
Fact: Parents will be notified that their children are receiving comprehensive sexual health education, and they will be provided with all of the related learning materials that will be used in the classroom. Parents can also decide to opt their children out of this program.
Myth: Comprehensive sex education will cause teenagers to engage in more sexual activity at a younger age.
Fact: According to the CDC, sexual education is associated with less risky sexual behavior. For example, students who receive sexual education are more likely to use condoms. Sexual education is also associated with later inital sexual experience, indicating that those who recieve sex education are more likely to wait until they are older to engage in sexual activity. Research shows that teens who receive comprehensive sex education are 50% less likely to experience teen pregnancy than those who are taught abstinence-only sex education.
Myth: The new sexual education requirement will leave children at higher risk of grooming and sexual abuse.
Fact: Washington’s comprehensive sex education includes information about affirmative consent. Students will also learn how to recognize and respond to violence and situations where they may be at risk of violence, and they will be trained in bystander intervention. They will learn about healthy relationships, and will be encouraged to choose relationships that are based on mutual respect.
Providing Washington’s children with comprehensive sexual health education will equip students with tools that will help them stay safe and healthy throughout their lives. Hopefully, education around consent will contribute to a cultural change in the next generation. Through programs like Trafficking Prevention for Schools, Seattle Against Slavery also creates change through education about gender-based violence and the societal factors that contribute to it. As an education intern with Seattle Against Slavery, I saw firsthand the power of education in creating progress. With comprehensive sex education, lessons about consent and gender-based violence prevention will reach many more students in Washington. This will empower students to recognize when affirmative consent is present, and will contribute to a safer environment for all. From a young age, children will learn to develop communication and decision making skills. When students get older, they will be provided with the medically accurate information they need to make informed decisions about their sexual health. When students are provided with necessary knowledge and life skills, they will be more informed members of society. Comprehensive sexual education has the potential to set up Washington’s students for success, and in turn, create societal progress.