Bill May Improve Sex Education in Nevada

After a bad week for sex ed last week, there's some good news as Nevada's assembly passes a law to expand and improve sexuality education in the state.

just adding a lesson about contraception cannot turn a fear- and shame-based program into anything better. sex education via Shutterstock

Between the news that an Ohio committee passed a law banning schools from teaching about “gateway sexual activity” and the controversy over Pam Stenzel’s slut-shaming speech in West Virginia, last week was a bad one for sex education. Both stories got a lot of attention around the web and prompted a pretty funny article called Sex Ed Horror Stories, in which ten Huffington Post staffers told their stories of misinformation. Funny as that was, I figured it was time for a good story about what sexuality education can be, and happily the Nevada assembly obliged by passing a bill that would improve sex education in the state.

Currently, Nevada law requires schools to create a course or a unit of a course that focuses on factual information on AIDS as well as additional information on “the human reproductive system, related communicable diseases, and sexual responsibility.” The course cannot be required for graduation. Moreover, in order for students to be enrolled in the course, parents must provide the school with written permission. This is referred to as an opt-in policy, and only three states have this restrictive policy. Sex educators prefer opt-out policies, under which students are automatically enrolled in sex education unless the school receives written notification from parents that they do not want their child to attend. Such policies are easier on administrators, allow for parental input, and prevent students from missing out on sex education because their parents forgot to sign a permission slip or it never even came out of the backpack.

Sexuality education advocates in Nevada, including Planned Parenthood of Southern Nevada, have been working with lawmakers to try to expand the current law and ensure both that more information is included in sex education programs and that it is easier for students to be enrolled in these courses.

AB 230 was introduced by Assemblyman David Bobzien (D-Reno). The bill states that each district should establish a course in sex education that includes comprehensive, medically accurate information about AIDS, the human reproductive system (including anatomy and physiology, puberty, pregnancy, parenting, body image, gender stereotypes, and the biological, psychosocial, and emotional changes that accompany maturation), sexually transmitted diseases (including the proper use and effectiveness of methods to avoid such diseases), and domestic violence, sexual abuse, sexual assault, exploitation, and human trafficking. Such courses must also help teens develop skills to promote sexual responsibility and teach them about methods of contraception, including “the proper use, effectiveness, safety, health benefits, and side effects of each method of contraception.”

But there’s more. Schools must periodically revise the content of the course to ensure that information is current, age-appropriate, and medically accurate. Courses must also “promote the inclusion and acceptance of pupils regardless of race, gender, gender identity or expression, religion, sexual orientation, ethnic or cultural background, or disability.”

The law would also change the state’s policy from opt-in to opt-out.

Bobzien spoke in support of his bill, saying, “Giving our students the facts—giving them the medically accurate information they need—will save lives.” Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D-Las Vegas) also spoke out in favor of the bill. During a committee hearing on the bill, Flores revealed that she had experienced an unintended pregnancy and had an abortion at age 16. She said that a lack of sex education in school and at home was part of the reason that happened. Later she told the full state house, “If we don’t act, they will find out how to make their own decisions with wrong or inaccurate medical information.”

Between 2005 and 2008, Nevada experienced one of the nation’s largest drops in teen pregnancy, with its rate falling by 9 percent. Nonetheless, Nevada still ranks fourth in the nation in teen pregnancy rates, with a rate of 84 teen pregnancies per 1,000 young women ages 15 to 19 (compared to the national rate of 67.8 per 1,000 young women). Teen pregnancy costs the state an estimated $84 million each year.

Not everyone is happy about the proposed legislation, however. In an op-ed in the Las Vegas Sun, Ruth Johnson, former president of both the Clark County School Board and the Nevada Association of School Boards, called the bill “a blatant attempt to craft a social movement in the guise of an educational campaign.” She went on to say the bill thwarts both parental right and local control and argue: “The bill is a contradiction of itself, requiring medically accurate and sound scientific facts and at the same time requiring ‘gender exploration or expression,’ which are issues born of social movements not of science.”

If the bill does become law, a state council would be charged with creating guidelines, and local districts would then have to create courses that follow those guidelines. The bill is now headed to the state senate.