by Hallie Cohen, YWCA Evanston/North Shore Violence Prevention Educator
On August 20, Governor JB Pritzker signed the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act into law. Also known as SB 818, the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act creates age-appropriate learning standards for public schools that decide to teach comprehensive personal health and safety education (grades K-5) and comprehensive sexual health education (grades 6-12). This law expands the current requirement that sex education be medically accurate, developmentally and age appropriate to include instruction that is also culturally appropriate, inclusive, and trauma informed. This law removes language from previous law that stigmatized LGBTQ+ and pregnant and parenting students, so that all students are one step closer to feeling seen in their classroom and receiving the health and safety education they deserve.
YWCA is committed to moving the work of comprehensive, inclusive, culturally relevant sex education forward through offering community-based sex education, supporting school districts in implementing sex education curriculum, and championing state-wide advocacy efforts such as the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act. Expanding access to and improving the standards for sexual health education directly supports our mission and work to eliminate racism and empower women. Research shows that comprehensive sex education improves academic outcomes, helps prevent sexual violence, and reduces both STI transmission and adolescent pregnancy.1
In honor of the signing of this bill into law, our in-house sex educator, Hallie Cohen, is addressing some common misconceptions about sex education and the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act.
Misconception: “Teaching children about sex will give them the idea/encourage them to have it.
Reality: The average first age of exposure to porn in the US is 13.2 Children and adolescents will access tons of conflicting, inaccurate, and harmful information and messages about sex in media and online, so ensuring that that they have access to trusted adults with accurate information about sexual health is vital.
Rigorous evaluations of comprehensive sexuality education programs have shown that they help young people to delay sexual initiation. For young people who have already had sex, these programs have been shown to be effective in reducing the frequency of sexual intercourse and the number of sexual partners, and in helping young people to use condoms and/or contraception more consistently.3
Misconception: Schools are undermining the family’s moral authority by forcing students to learn about sexuality.
Reality: The Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act retains a parents/guardian’s right to opt-out a student from sexual health education by reviewing curriculum with the classroom teacher and/or school administration.
If parents or families do choose to have their student participate in sex education, teachers are never guided to share their own values; their work is to present medically accurate, age appropriate information, and encourage students to explore their own values with family and community support.
Misconception: “Sex Education in middle and high school? Sure. But kindergarten/early elementary schoolers shouldn’t be learning about sex.”
Reality: “Sex education” is an umbrella term that covers anatomy and physiology, puberty and development, gender and sexual identity, sexual health, and interpersonal violence—these topics are scaffolded and introduced at age-appropriate times throughout the K-12 career. In early elementary, students will learn about topics such as identity, and the correct names for body parts, which can make children less vulnerable to child abuse.
For another source of information, read this zine created by teens that worked on the coalition to pass the bill, which goes into a lot of detail about the standards that the bill created: https://www.aclu-il.org/en/publications/talk-guide-comprehensive-sexual-health-education-illinois
If you have questions about the Keeping Youth Safe and Healthy Act, or the YWCA’s sex education work, contact Hallie at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- APA 2017 https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2017/08/pornography-exposure
- Collins, C, P Alagiri, T Summers, SF Morin. 2002. Abstinence Only vs. Comprehensive Sex Education: What are the arguments? What is the evidence?