On Jan. 11, a Kentucky Senate panel passed Senate Bill 71 (SB71) which will require sex education curriculum to include content that says abstinence from premarital sexual activity is “the expected standard for all school-age children” and “the only certain way to avoid out-of-wedlock pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases and other associated health problems.”
The bill passed with a vote of 7-2 and will go to the full Senate within the next month.
The Kentucky Department of Education provides the state with regulations on health education in which specific schools can choose their curriculum. The Lexington Herald Leader reported that, “[the] bill would not stop schools from teaching children about other methods to prevent pregnancy, but it mandates only abstinence education.”
Atherton senior and rape victim Sophia Letson-Ettin as well as other members of the Louisville Sex Education Now (LSEN) community initiative at the hearing furiously opposed the bill due to its possible effects.
“The potential impact of SB71 being passed is a lack of clear information for young people,” Letson-Ettin said. “In turn [it] can lead to more devastating results such as contracting STDs/STIs, unwanted pregnancies or breaches of consent due to ignorance.”
— PP Advocates of INKY (@PPAdvocatesINKY) January 12, 2018
The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Stephen Meredith argued that, “we still struggle with the quality and quantity of information we present to our children.”
According to the Courier-Journal, “much of the discussion during the hearing focused on cultural concerns ranging from faith and religion to sexual abuse.”
“We have to work to lobby for bills that teach science and [we have to] get politicians who support safe sex and women’s choice rights,” Trevor Harry (11, HSU) said. “We have to keep Planned Parenthood open because they provide some free contraception and teach sex education when public school curriculum fails.”
The Courier also reported that supporter of the bill, Republican Sen. Danny Carroll,”said he believes it’s important to require that abstinence and monogamy be included in sex education, arguing that societies that don’t set standards are doomed to fail.”
While some students see the need for abstinence education, they believe the reality is heavily flawed.
“Continuing to allow abstinence only classes is incredibly harmful to students of every gender,” Planned Parenthood Teen Council member Meghan Sharma (12, HSU) said. “To young women, it contributes to the harmful stereotypes they face regarding slut-shaming.”
The flaws regarding abstinence only education appear heavily related to the types of issues women and young girls face on a daily basis, but they aren’t the only population that the possibility of abstinence only sex education will effect.
“In terms of how young men can be impacted by SB71, abstinence only classes cause them to not understand and fully comprehend the importance of consent in relationships,” Sharma said. “Furthermore, abstinence only classes disenfranchise the education of LGBTQ+ men [and women] by not being included within the content itself.”
Some students argued that abstinence education promotes a religious bias and it is unfair to use these kinds of biases in public education.
“Senate Bill 71 is unrealistic for today’s society,” Male sophomore and advocate for comprehensive sex education Lexie Overstreet said. “Many teenagers and young adults have sex and abstinence is typically religious based and it’s Kentucky’s job to educate everyone equally.”
Although many view SB71 as a threat to comprehensive sex education, Leston-Etton still has hope for the education of Kentucky students.
“I will continue to advocate for comprehensive sex education alongside LSEN and Planned Parenthood who have given me a platform to be involved in the legal process,” Letson-Ettin said. “On a smaller, but equally important scale, I’ll continue to be a voice for those who are afraid to speak up and I will continue to educate people with open arms.”
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