When Illinois students go back to school this fall, they can expect to receive more comprehensive sexual health information in their health classes. Since state lawmakers recently banned abstinence-only education, public school districts that provide sex ed will need to update their curricula to include comprehensive information about preventing pregnancy and STDs.
HB 2675, which Gov. Pat Quinn (D) plans to sign into law, will take effect on January 1. After that point, public schools’ health classes won’t be allowed to emphasize abstinence without any mention of prevention methods.
Many of the state’s school districts say they won’t need to change their curricula too much because they already teach adequate sex ed. State officials can’t verify that claim, since the Illinois Board of Education doesn’t currently track public schools’ sex education classes. But it’s disputed by outside research. In 2008, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago found that although 93 percent of the state’s public school districts did offer sex ed courses, only 65 percent of sex ed teachers were including comprehensive information about birth control and STDs. Supporters of HB 2675 say that’s partly why the state has such a high rate of sexually transmitted infections — particularly chlamydia and gonorrhea — among teens.
Other states have demonstrated the positive effects of expanding comprehensive sex ed. In California, public health officials recently reported that the state’s teen birth rate plummeted by 60 percent over the past two decades — something they directly credit to the success of new state laws requiring public schools to teach scientifically accurate information about birth control.
However, Illinois may not experience quite as dramatic of a shift since abstinence proponents will likely be able to exploit loopholes in the new law. School districts are allowed to forgo teaching sex ed if they want to, so the new standards only apply to the schools that choose to offer sex ed classes in the first place. And the Associated Press reports that the Chicago-based Abstinence and Marriage Education Partnership, which produces abstinence-based sex ed curricula, is telling its clients that HB 2675 won’t require them to make any changes. Its abstinence courses already cover birth control — just “not in great detail.”
“We don’t teach them how to use contraception, but we teach them what it is,” the group’s executive director, Scott Phelps, explained. “We don’t see how our curricula would in any way violate the new law.”
Research into right-wing abstinence programming has consistently found that it often imparts factually inaccurate information about sexual health resources. By telling kids that birth control is likely to fail, many young Americans falsely believe it doesn’t make a difference at all. A full 60 percent of U.S. teens believe that contraception is less effective than it actually is.