By Carly Silver
Problem Statement and Background
Wisconsin’s sexual education system has regressed over the past decade. Since education is controlled by states, there is no clear way to implement a sexual education curriculum for the country. However, Wisconsin can take the correct steps to ensure that they are moving forward efficiently and effectively.
Wisconsin began its first significant sexual education legislation in 2009 with the Healthy Youth Act. This provision was created not to enforce all schools to have sexual education but rather provide requirements to those schools that do have programs. The bill mandated that certain topics be taught, including age-appropriate education, contraception usage, medical accuracy during instruction, and stressing the value of abstinence. This act was a step in the right direction with the benefit of providing budding adults with information to keep them safe and responsible. Although there was room for growth in some areas, Wisconsin was being progressive and implementing the first steps of an influential sexual education curriculum.
Unfortunately, this act was repealed in 2012, and a bill was passed to require abstinence-only education that same year. This bill did not include any of the previous mandates. It was also opposed by the Wisconsin Department of Instruction and Wisconsin Medical society. Currently, it is up to each individual school if they want to provide “human growth and development classes” (a fancy way of saying sex-ed). In addition to this, it is completely up to the discretion of those schools on what they want to include in their curriculum. Wisconsin does require all education to be medically accurate (Wis. Stat. § 118.019), which is the least they can do. Wisconsin did reinstate instruction on sexually transmitted diseases in sexual education, but again, it is up to the school if they even want to teach sex-ed.
Predominantly liberal states are leading the revolution in progressive sexual education and the results are apparent. Massachusetts, where every single county voted Blue in the 2020 election, has the lowest teen birth rate in the country. In early 2020, they passed legislation to require comprehensive sexual education to schools that are choosing to have sex-ed programs. While Wisconsin is only 11th and not far behind Massachusetts with the lowest teen pregnancy rates, it is still not good enough. The state is failing our young women and men, with 2,406 teen births too many (Power to Decide). In addition to this, WI is failing their LGBTQ+ community, regardless of their stance they exist and they deserve to be provided education to stay safe. It was relevant during the HIV/AIDS epidemic and is still to this day. Men who have sexual relations with other men make up two-thirds of new HIV infections as well as two-thirds of syphilis cases (CDC). The state of Wisconsin needs to improve to help protect its citizens, regardless of sexual orientation. Having up-to-date sexual education curriculums can preserve futures.
The main risks that can follow an incomplete sexual education are teen pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and just a lack of knowledge. Every teen should be entitled to knowing how their body works, as well as being aware of what their peers of the opposite gender are experiencing. It is a lack of knowledge that creates a stigma of periods and surrounds the uncomfortableness of puberty. On top of that, humans are inherently sexual beings, and according to the Center of Disease Control, over half of the teens by the age of eighteen have had sexual intercourse. The method of abstinence is no longer applicable in the 21st century. Sex is in our news, music, television, social media, etc. There is no escaping it in our daily lives and teens rely on our educators for correct advice.
The sexual education program that is in place in Wisconsin is not good enough. A 2018 study shows that 81% of women have experienced a form of sexual harassment in their lifetime (NPR). Consent needs to be a topic in every high school around the country. Unfortunately, that is not a reality, but Wisconsin can set the stage for other states. By implementing safe and correct practices at an early age, unwanted situations can be easily avoided. Not only does this apply to sexual harassment but every aspect of life, both for men and women. Consent is relevant in professional facilities, universities, at home, and anytime when “yes” and “no” are prevalent. The Harvard Graduate School of Education published an article stressing the importance of expressing these boundaries at an early age. This includes “body, space, and touch” to begin and later progresses to clearly explaining what sexual harassment is (even when alcohol is present). The importance of this is more than just sexual harassment, it is also rape, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 71 men experience rape or attempted rape in their lifetime (National Sexual Violence Resource Center). Also, the majority of these events happen before the young age of 25 (81.3% for women and 70.3% for men). This education needs to happen sooner rather than later and the Wisconsin school system needs to take responsibility for teaching it.
There are many reasons why people are against sexual education in schools. One common belief is parents should be teaching their children and that it is not a topic for school. However, how do we expect teens to get the information they need and desire from someone who is not educated on the topic. Sure, there are the “birds and the bees” but can they explain everything their children need to know. There is so much more to sexual education than “the sex talk”, stuff that parents might just miss. Another reason might be religion. Luckily, there are options to opt-out of these programs. In addition, Church and State are separate so religion should not be a reason why a school district chooses not to teach this (unless it is a private school).
Of the United States, only twenty-four states mandate sexual education (Planned Parenthood). In addition to this, there is a loss of access to help support those who never got a proper education. In 2020, H.R. 369- Defund Planned Parenthood Act was passed. This meant that Planned Parenthood would not receive any federal funding for a year. Although it has expired, it is already being put back into the conversation in 2021. Planned Parenthood is an organization that has done what our state leaders and legislators are not bold enough to do. It creates a safe environment for teens to be curious and learn about their bodies. It provides affordable birth control, medical care such as mammograms, and much more. Planned Parenthood covers all the bases with sexual education, HIV/AIDS education, those with disabilities, LGBTQ+, and anything under that umbrella. It has a plethora of resources as well and should be an example, as well as a guide, for states for mandating sexual education. Wisconsin should reap the benefits of having access to this facility.
There are many different areas of improvement. Wisconsin already has a good foundation to build from. The state requiring medical accuracy for schools that are teaching “growth and development” courses is a good first step. The next step would be to have Wisconsin mandate sexual education for all public schools and have all of the schools teach the same curriculum. Once this is enacted there are many different paths to enhance the curriculum such as conception instruction, inclusivity, and more.
Some are against comprehensive sexual education: there is actually an organization called Stop CSE. There is a whole website nit-picking the ins and out of the current curriculum in place in Wisconsin. Debunking their theories with facts and educating people about the benefits can help counteract this. Stop CSE is dangerous to the pursuit of proper sexual education and has the potential to spread false information. Their “informational” doctrine states that comprehensive sexual education “normalizes teen sex, encourage[s] sexual pleasure-seeking, condone[s] early sexual debut and promote high-risk sexual behaviors” (StopCSE). There is research that finds that abstinence-only education does not stop or delay sex in teens. This form of education can put teens at increased risk for STIs and teen pregnancy (Guttmacher Institute).
Wisconsin needs to pursue working towards normalizing sexual education and bodies. The stigma behind humans being sexual beings is toxic. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 99% of Americans have sex by age 44, and 95% of them had sex before marriage. Furthermore, humans have sex and sexual organs, with that comes preventable consequences. The best way for prevention is a sexual education that gives teens the information they need to lead happy, safe lives. If not taught by schools, then there is no way to ensure that everyone is getting the knowledge they need or at all.
Wisconsin needs to improve its sexual education for the sake of teens and their futures. The importance for our future generations for their health and wellbeing is at stake. All it takes is little addition and adjustments at a time to show the community that this is for the overall good. Change doesn’t happen overnight but can begin with supportive legislation and education on the benefits sex-ed provides.
2009 Wisconsin Act 134. State of Wisconsin, 10 Mar. 2010, docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2009/related/acts/134.pdf.
“American Adolescents’ Sources of Sexual Health Information.” Guttmacher Institute, Guttmacher Institute, 3 Jan. 2019, www.guttmacher.org/fact-sheet/facts-american-teens-sources-information-about-sex#.
Analysis of State Health Education Laws WISCONSIN SUMMARY REPORT, Center of Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/policy/pdf/summary_report_factsheets/Wisconsin.pdf.
Chatterjee, Rhitu. “A New Survey Finds 81 Percent Of Women Have Experienced Sexual Harassment.” NPR, NPR, 22 Feb. 2018, www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/02/21/587671849/a-new-survey-finds-eighty-percent-of-women-have-experienced-sexual-harassment.
Choudhury, Nishat. “Research Finds That 97% of Women in the UK Have Been Sexually Harassed.” Open Access Government, Open Access Government, 16 Mar. 2021, www.openaccessgovernment.org/97-of-women-in-the-uk/105940/.
Chris Lisinski, State House News Service. “Mass. Senate Approves Sex Education Bill.” Mass. Senate Approves Sex Education Bill | Edify, WBUR, 16 Jan. 2020, www.wbur.org/edify/2020/01/16/massachusetts-senate-sex-education.
Kate Bradford, Tahra Johnson. State Policies on Sex Education in Schools, NCLS, 1 Oct. 2020, www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-sex-education-in-schools.aspx#2.
Kopsa, Andy. “Wisconsin Repeals Healthy Youth Act, Bans Women From Buying Private Abortion Coverage.” Rewire News Group, Rewire News Group, 14 Mar. 2012, rewirenewsgroup.com/article/2012/03/14/wisconsin-repeals-healthy-youth-act-bans-abortion-coverage-by-private-health-insu/.
“New CDC Report on U.S. Teens’ Sexual Behavior Illustrates Adolescents’ Continued Need for Sex Education and Effective Birth Control.” Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, 22 June 2017, www.plannedparenthood.org/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/planned-parenthood-new-cdc-report-on-u-s-teens-sexual-behavior-illustrates-adolescents-continued-need-for-sex-education-and-effective-birth-control.
“Premarital Sex Is Nearly Universal Among Americans, And Has Been For Decades.” Guttmacher Institute, Guttmacher Institute, 17 June 2013, www.guttmacher.org/news-release/2006/premarital-sex-nearly-universal-among-americans-and-has-been-decades.
“Sex and HIV Education.” Guttmacher Institute, Guttmacher Institute , 1 Mar. 2021, www.guttmacher.org/state-policy/explore/sex-and-hiv-education.
Slater, Hannah. “LGBT-Inclusive Sex Education Means Healthier Youth and Safer Schools.” Center for American Progress, Center for American Progress, 28 June 2013, www.americanprogress.org/issues/lgbtq-rights/news/2013/06/21/67411/lgbt-inclusive-sex-education-means-healthier-youth-and-safer-schools/#:~:text=Comprehensive%20sex%20education%20benefits%20all,pregnancy%20and%20sexually%20transmitted%20infections.
Stoller, Maya. “Wisconsin.” Allbodies, Allbodies Inc, allbodies.com/sex-ed/wisconsin/.
Tatter, Grace. “Consent at Every Age.” Harvard Graduate School of Education, President and Fellows of Harvard College, 19 Dec. 2018, www.gse.harvard.edu/news/uk/18/12/consent-every-age.
“What Is Sex Education?: Sex Ed Definition and QA.” Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/for-educators/what-sex-education.
“Wisconsin Data: Power to Decide.” Wisconsin Data | Power to Decide, Power to Decide, the Campaign to Prevent Unplanned Pregnancy, powertodecide.org/what-we-do/information/national-state-data/wisconsin.
“WISCONSIN STATE PROFILE.” Stop Comprehensive Sexual Education, Stop Comprehensive Sexual Education, www.comprehensivesexualityeducation.org/wp-content/uploads/WISCONSIN_9.28.18.pdf.