The Colorado House has passed a comprehensive sex education bill that would, if passed and enacted, no longer allow teachers to tell students scary lies about sex, exclude the experiences of LGBTQ people from those discussions, or push religious ideas on them. The New York Times reports that the bill is “is widely expected to pass.”
Colorado does not require that schools teach sexual education, but the bill would require schools that offer sexual health curriculum do so in an inclusive, comprehensive way. The bill bans abstinence-only education, requires that public and charter schools teach students about consent when discussing sexual health, and says that sexual education must include the experiences of LGBTQ people.
If the bill passes and is enacted into law, Colorado will join eight other states and Washington D.C. in teaching consent in schools.
“The sooner we talk to kids about what consent looks like,” State Rep. Susan Lontine, who introduced the bill, told the Times, “the sooner I hope a tide will turn so we’re no longer hearing stories of people being harmed.”
Often, abstinence-only education perpetuates gender stereotypes, excludes LGBTQ people, and misinforms teens. For example, one textbook approved by the Alabama State Board of Education, where abstinence is stressed, claims that “Many teens are physically and emotionally hurt by sexual activity” and emphasizes that marriage is a “lifelong union” between a man and a woman. The Times reports that in eighth grade, Colorado student Clark Wilson was taught that “People are like tape and once they have sex they’re dirty and can’t have meaningful relationships.”
Studies have shown that abstinence-only education is both harmful and ineffective, linked to increasing rates of teenage pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It also harms LGBTQ youth, who, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, face higher health risks than their peers.
Yet across the country, abstinence-only education is the norm. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 37 states require students to learn about abstinence in public school, and 27 of those states require educators stress abstinence. (Only 13 require that information to be medically accurate and eight require education must be culturally unbiased).
Comprehensive, inclusive sexual education can be life-changing for students, especially those who are questioning their identity and sexual orientation. In a piece on what inclusive, comprehensive sex ed should look like, Chris Angel Murphy, a 31-year-old who identifies as trans, queer, and non-binary, told Jezebel last week, “I think if I had had access to community like that much sooner, just openly discussing the LGBTQ community in health classes, or even other classes for that matter, it would have helped to normalize it and probably would have saved me a lot of years of shame and guilt.” Murphy lives in California, which in 2016 enacted one of the most progressive sexual health education laws in the country.
The Colorado bill is still a far cry from progressive laws like California’, which mandates that schools teach comprehensive, inclusive sex education, but at least it’s a start. Sadly, as Rep. Lontine notes, even learning nothing about sex is better than learning lies. “I’d rather they just don’t teach anything if they can’t be honest,” she said.