Challenging Abstinence-Ed in Illinois

Screen shot 2013-08-14 at 4.33.30 PMThis fall, 6th- through 12th-grade students in Illinois will no longer learn exclusively about abstinence in their sex-ed classes. Gov. Pat Quinn plans to sign HB 2675 into law, requiring schools with sex-ed programs to also offer “age appropriate, medically accurate and complete” lessons on birth control and sexually transmitted infections (STI).

Taking effect January 1 if signed, HB 2675 would counter the state’s current law that instructs sex-ed curricula to “emphasize that abstinence is the expected norm.” Illinois educators are also expected to stress to students that they should wait for marriage before engaging in sexual activity.

Abstinence-only sex-ed is unrealistic and ineffective, says Democratic state Sen. Heather Steans, co-sponsor of the bill. In a statement to the Associated Press, she noted:

Abstinence is the only 100 percent effective way [to prevent STIs and unwanted pregnancies], but the reality is that by the end of senior year in high school, two-thirds of our kids are saying that they’ve had sex.

A study released in June by the Guttmacher Institute on American teen sexual health found that 71 percent of teens nationwide have had sex by age 19.

Under current Illinois law, schools have three sex-ed options: teaching abstinence-only, offering comprehensive sex-ed that includes abstinence and safe-sex information, or opting out of sex-ed. State officials estimate that schools are evenly distributed between the three categories, but Illinois does not keep an official record of sex-ed curricula in the state’s 860-plus school districts.

While the new legislation at least removes abstinence-only education as an option, it still allows schools to opt out of providing sex-ed altogether. HB 2675 also permits parents to review instructional materials and, if they choose, remove their children from participating in sex-ed without penalty.

Even with its shortcomings, HB 2675 is still a step toward making information about sexual and reproductive health more accessible to Illinois teens. As Planned Parenthood of Illinois president and CEO, Carole Brite, noted:

The goal of any top-quality sexual health education program should be to help young people make responsible, healthy decisions … This bill is a huge step forward in advancing the health and safety of young people in Illinois—while they are teenagers and throughout their adult lives.

Various types of female condoms pictured above,  from Flickr user PATH global health under license from Creative Commons 2.0



Jennifer Simeone is a freelance feminist writer and recent graduate from University of California, Santa Cruz. She is currently based in Los Angeles but moving to the San Francisco Bay Area. You can find out more by following her on Tumblr or Twitter