Washington State had seen a disturbing trend among its adolescents in the past few years; a climbing rate of STDs. Since 2014, according to the Washington State Department of Health, syphilis and gonorrhea rates have both increased by over 70 percent in the 14-19-year-old age group. That’s not just a minor fluctuation, it’s massive. More students between grades 8 and 12 have been reporting sexual contact and dating violence as well. These are just some of the reasons for Washington State House Bill 2184, “Requiring comprehensive sexual health education with an affirmative consent curriculum in all public schools by the 2022-23 school year in accordance with the recommendations of the sexual health education working group,”

Despite generally leaning towards the progressive side of the political spectrum, Washington state hasn’t managed to pass a bill mandating that schools offer sexual health education. Currently, the law only requires a brief seminar on HIV prevention offered from fifth grade onward.

Proponents of a statewide sexual health curriculum conducted a survey of middle-schoolers in 2018. Of 9,000 polled students, approximately two-thirds reported some level of education in preventing pregnancy and STDs, including abstinence. Eighty-six percent of school districts reported that some sexual health education was given, mostly in grades 6-8.

Laurie Dils oversees sexual health education for the state superintendent’s office, which currently includes the Healthy Youth Act, a series of guidelines that schools must go by if they choose to talk about more than HIV prevention. It doesn’t specify content, but requires that instruction be medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, and inclusive (presumably inclusive of special education students, too). It also encourages instruction on healthy boundaries and making smart choices.

Dils, along with the superintendent’s office, is currently backing House Bill 2184 which would expand the Healthy Youth Act, making comprehensive sexual health education a required part of public-school curricula by 2022.

The state superintendent’s office lists 20 different topics that it uses to define comprehensive sex education. These include:

  • The benefits of abstaining from sex.
  • How well condoms do—or don’t—work, and how to get and use them.
  • The importance of limiting the number of sexual partners.
  • Sexual orientation and gender roles, identity, and expression.
  • The relationship between alcohol and other drug use and risky sexual behavior.

In testimony before the House Committee on Education January 16, Washington State University student Andrea Alejandra told legislators about her experience with sexual abuse and growing up in a very religious household.

“I didn’t know what boundaries were. I didn’t know how to say ‘no,’” she said. “I wish I had something like this to tell me, ‘This is your body and you have the right to protect it.’ I wish someone had told me at an earlier age.”

The part of HB 2184 that’s sticking in its opponents’ craws is not so much the loss of local control over what’s taught; it’s the scope of the comprehensive sex education Dils is asking for. HB 2184 would begin sexual health education in kindergarten, with soft topics such as bodily autonomy. Many say that’s too young for anything with “sexual” attached.

“They want to teach second-graders that cats and dogs reproduce. Why do second-graders need to know that?” said Republican Representative Vicki Kraft. “The more this becomes a conversation that we introduce this at younger grades … these decisions lead to more sex among teenagers.”

Ah, the old “talking about sex will lead to more sex” canard.

News flash: teenagers, and even middle school students, are doing sexual things, whether or not they’re well informed about them. They’re also being preyed on by child predators on social media platforms. These predators take advantage of children’s naïveté about their bodies and about sexuality in general. Giving children age-appropriate comprehensive sex education isn’t going to make kids have more sex; it’s going to make them more knowledgeable about their bodies and their boundaries.

Bodily autonomy is not necessarily about sex. Kindergartners should be taught about boundaries at an age-appropriate level because it will give them the grounding for healthy interactions for the rest of their lives, and perhaps even prevent them from being preyed on by pedophiles, either in real life or on social media. Comprehensive sex education starting in elementary school is crucial because that’s when kids start learning about sex, whether you want them to or not. But we have a choice: kids can get their information from an appropriate source like a teacher or a parent, or they can get it from their peers or from adults who want to take advantage of them.

HB 2184 is scheduled for executive session in the House Committee on Education at 1:30 p.m. February 3.

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