Wisconsin already requires public school districts to emphasize abstinence as the best way to prevent pregnancy, and allows schools to teach health classes without any mention of contraception or puberty. But for some conservatives in the state, eliminating comprehensive sex education doesn’t go far enough. Right-wing outlets in Wisconsin are currently fearmongering over school districts’ “masturbation education policies.”
The Wisconsin Reporter — a project of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity — obtained a copy of a booklet that one public school district in the state uses to explain its guidelines on answering kids’ questions about “human growth and development.” The Oak Creek School District provides the booklet to parents so they will understand how school staff typically handles questions related to sexuality. “Even though specific objectives are not taught in your child’s grade, questions may still arise,” the book explains.
But its section on responding to students’ questions on masturbation — which include defining the term and explaining that “family beliefs and values and opinions” on the subject may vary — was enough to incite controversy. The Wisconsin Reporter’s breathless headline proclaims, “Wisconsin schools introduce masturbation in fourth grade.” Fox News picked up the story, claiming that “some Wisconsin school districts are reportedly authorizing detailed sex education at elementary schools that includes such topics as masturbation.” Other right-wing outlets piled on, insinuating that parents are “unhappy” with the curriculum.
The booklet in question doesn’t actually represent a new sex ed curriculum. As it clearly states, Wisconsin doesn’t have any elementary-level standards for teaching human sexuality, and the guidelines don’t mean that fourth-grade teachers will be required to teach about these topics. The book simply serves as a guide in case Oak Creek students ask questions about topics like masturbation on their own, and doesn’t apply to every school district in the state.
It’s not uncommon for young children to explore masturbation, an aspect of childhood sexuality that doctors say is very normal. Pediatricians recommend that parents explain that it’s a private activity, but they warn against telling children that it’s inherently wrong because that attitude will teach kids to feel ashamed of their bodies.
But abstinence education proponents in Wisconsin have already made big gains toward ensuring that kids will receive shame-based information about their sexuality. Last year, the GOP-controlled legislature repealed the state’s comprehensive sex ed law and reinstated abstinence education. Although Wisconsin’s education department opposed the measure, Gov. Scott Walker (R) signed it anyway. Now, there’s no guarantee that students in Wisconsin will receive any accurate information about human sexuality whatsoever. “This bill gives schools the green light to teach failed and ineffective abstinence-only programs,” Sara Finger, the executive director of the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health, said in reference to the initiative after the legislature first passed it.