In Illinois this summer, Governor Quinn signed a law that requires schools in Illinois to teach sexual education with scientifically- and medically-accurate information that is age-appropriate. This law takes effect on New Year’s Day.

Yes. That’s right. You heard it here. The schools in Illinois are going to be REQUIRED to teach our kids stuff that is based on TRUTH, not distorted misinformation.

And I bet you thought this was already happening, didn’t you? You EXPECT schools to teach stuff that is accurate and proven, right? We expect it and receive it in our science and math classes. Shouldn’t health class be just as accurate? (Illinois isn’t the only state dealing with this right now. It’s just so scary!)

Well, historically schools have been federally funded to teach abstinence-only curricula. In other words, our students were taught that there are no other options but to wait until you are married to have sex. Oh, and birth control, especially condoms, don’t work that great, so just wait until you are married. End of discussion.

Another mistaken theory is that if we teach abstinence-only, kids are less likely to have sex. I suppose some adults feel that if we don’t TALK about it, they won’t KNOW about it. (Seriously, folks? Were you not a teenager yourself??) The truth is, sex is still happening but they are just less likely to use protection. They end up with higher STI and pregnancy rates. How many studies would you like to read to back this up? Well, here’s just one for now. It’s from an organization called Advocates for Youth. They are a really terrific resource that utilize medically-accurate and research-based information to educate professionals, parents, and youth, as well as advocate for and support really great sexual health education.

I have had to teach one of these abstinence-only curriculum to middle-schoolers. It just about killed me. I was, and still am, astonished that this is what we are teaching our media-savvy, hormonally-challenged, sexually curious students in middle- and high-school – in the 21st century!! (You think they haven’t heard the word “condom”? Do people not realize that over 47% of our students have had sex before graduation? (CDC))

I am happy to state that not all schools in Illinois have succumbed to this ridiculous idea – many schools have already been teaching comprehensive sexual health education. Kudos to them.

Please keep in mind that in a comprehensive program abstinence IS discussed, taught, and encouraged as the only way to 100% prevent STI’s, AIDS, and pregnancy. However, it seems there is a belief that by teaching comprehensive sex ed we are “encouraging” our kids to have sex because we educate them about the (pretty great) effectiveness of condoms when used correctly.

Uh, no. We are merely giving information that will help them make informed choices about how to protect their health. Period. If the kids are being “encouraged” to have sex, it’s from media or other sources, not their teachers. Duh. (I cannot scientifically prove that, but some things are just so obvious….)

Under this new law, schools have the option to NOT teach sex ed, but if they do, they have to do it comprehensively and accurately. Parents do have the option to remove their child from the sexual health portion of health class if they choose. (But I’m pretttttyyyyyyy sure the other students will be sharing their newly found knowledge with each other. And wouldn’t a parent prefer their child learn from an educator, not another teenager, no matter how well-informed the teens are?)

So, it’s a good year for school health educators in Illinois (and school nurses!!).

As a parent, I would find out which curriculum your district or school uses, and also the credentials of the person teaching your child. Even though this change is to take effect immediately, I am fairly certain it will take a semester or two to get it rolling.

This is a great time to talk to your child about their health class, and to find out what they are learning. It’s also a great time to integrate your own values and ideas about sex with the facts they are learning in class. Gulp. I know that may be hard at first, but it will be okay….

Until next time….