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Clarifying the Sex Education Law

Christina Clark | September 26, 2016

Many people mistakenly think that the Alabama sex education law is also known as the “abstinence law”. The folks at Planned Parenthood Southeast allowed us to clear up that myth – please read our full letter below about the Alabama sex education law, and how it is actually supportive of evidence-based comprehensive sex education.


“Working on sexual health education in the South can be daunting. In this line of work, the needle moves very little, very slowly. I have worked for the Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy for almost six years. Our small but mighty operation provides training and technical assistance to youth-serving professionals on evidence-based sexual health curricula. We couldn’t do the work we do without strong partners at the state and community level, or without at least a permissive sex education policy.

“And yet, the thing we hear most often when we talk about the Alabama sex education law is, ‘You mean the abstinence law?’

“First, it’s important to note that sexual health education is not mandated by the state of Alabama, though HIV/AIDS education is mandated. One might wonder how you can discuss HIV/AIDS without discussed sex. We’ve been scratching our heads at that one, too.

“Second, the ‘Minimum Contents to be Included in Sex Education Program or Curriculum’ was adopted into the Code of Alabama in 1992 (Act No. 92-590, Section 2), and outlines what must be included if a sexual health education program or curriculum is taught. It says that ‘at a minimum’ professionals must teach that ‘abstinence from sexual activity is the only completely effective protection’ against unplanned pregnancy and ‘an emphasis on sexual abstinence’. But the law also says the teacher must provide ‘statistics based on the latest medical information that indicate the degree of reliability and unreliability of various forms of contraception, while also emphasizing the increase in protection against pregnancy and protection against sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and AIDS infection, which is afforded by the use of various contraceptive measures.’ (Emphases mine)

“The sexual health education law also supports the 2009 Alabama Health Course of Study, which says that the framework for health studies is ‘fundamental and specific but not exhaustive’; that the Alabama State Board of Education ‘strongly encourages the embodiment of these laws, resolutions, and regulations in all age- and content-appropriate contexts’; that ‘refined education standards were designed to meet the needs of today’s students’; and that the changes reflect ‘current evidence-based research’. (Emphases mine)

“All of this policy jargon is meant to show that when anyone talks about the Alabama sexual health education law, they are not talking about an ‘abstinence law’. They are talking about a law that, while flawed, is also permissive and encouraging of comprehensive sexual health education, which means discussion of abstinence and safer sex practices. It also means that what is taught must be age-appropriate and medically-accurate. These are non-negotiable.

“As we often tell the young people we work with and encounter every day, don’t just strive for the minimum – the sky is the limit! Let’s give our youth sexual health information that will make them health literate for life.”



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