Washington bill would require "medically accurate" sex education

By Advocate.com Editors

Originally published on Advocate.com February 04 2003 1:00 AM ET

Washington State lawmakers are considering a bill that would require public schools that offer sex education to provide only "medically accurate" information supported by scientific research and experts in the field. Washington schools currently are not required to provide sex education--the decision is up to local school boards--but many do offer the programs and use federal money to help pay for them. The federal No Child Left Behind Act bars federal funds from being used for sex education unless it is "age appropriate" and teaches the health benefits of abstinence. Washington has received over $700,000 a year for abstinence-based sex education since 1997.

At a hearing last week, current and former high school students who received abstinence-focused sex education testified that they had been taught abortions were likely to lead to death or sterility, that condoms are rarely effective, that parents who give their children condoms don't love or trust them, and that tampons can get lost in a woman's uterus. "The sex education I received in my high school was unforgivable due to its scientific and medical inaccuracies," said Lindsay Scola, now a sophomore at the University of Washington. She added that after being taught that condoms were ineffective, many sexually active students simply stopped using them.

"When kids are misinformed, when they're lied to, they can be harmed for the rest of their lives--they can even die," said Rep. Shay Schual-Berke, the bill's sponsor.

Opponents of the measure say its intent is to censor abstinence-only sex education. "Comprehensive sex ed is a risk, and I think we need to do a better job of teaching risk avoidance," said Kathy Taylor, executive director of Sexuality, Health, and Relationship Education.