General Articles

Kentucky House Bill Calls for a More Comprehensive Approach to Sex Education

On February 4, 2010, comprehensive sex education advocates in Kentucky rallied at the state capitol to support passage of House Bill 119.[1] Sponsored by Representative Mary Lou Marzian (D-District 34), the bill would require public schools, family resource centers, and youth services centers that provide instruction in human sexuality to adopt science-based content standards and provide information that is age-appropriate, culturally sensitive, medically accurate, and includes information on both abstinence and contraception. Parents may choose to remove their child from instruction.[2]
The bill would also impact the use of state funds appropriated for sex education programs. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services and subcontractors of state funds would be required to teach curricula that are subject to the same instructional standards as those required of schools and community centers providing sex education.[3]
Current Kentucky state law does not require sex education to be taught in public schools, nor are there any curriculum requirements for human sexuality education.[4] The Kentucky Program of Studies, which determines the minimum content standards for all grade levels, does not provide specific health standards for high school related to human sexuality education. The only education standard pertaining to the topic states that students will understand how “decision-making relates to responsible sexual behavior (e.g. abstinence, preventing pregnancy, preventing HIV/STDs).”[5]
The state of Kentucky has invested significant resources in an abstinence-only-until-marriage approach. In Fiscal Year 2008 organizations and state agencies in Kentucky received more than $3.5 million in federal funding for abstinence-only-until-marriage programming, the majority of which was awarded to crisis pregnancy centers, which received a total of $2,749,423 in federal funds.[6] A 2008 report conducted by SIECUS on the use of federal abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in the state found the programs used in Kentucky advance religious messages, rely on messages of fear and shame, foster gender myths and stereotypes, promote virginity pledges, and provide misinformation.[7]
Advocates for sex education state that it is important for young people to receive accurate information. “We really need to tell teens absolutely correct information because when you go and talk to your friends, they say, ‘Oh yeah, you can’t get STDs you had your shots when you were little.’ I’ve heard things like that from teens,” stated high school junior, Lyla Walz-Piper, in an interview with WLKY.[8]  
“Kentucky’s young women and men can and will make healthy decisions for their lives, but in order to do so they need an education that gives them a complete understanding of their bodies, pregnancy, STDs and healthy relationships, ” said Derek Selznick, director of the Reproductive Freedom Project for the ACLU of Kentucky. 
Representative Marzian states that passing the bill will help protect teens against not only unintended pregnancy but also sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.[9] The bill is currently in the House Education Committee. A similar bill will be introduced in the Senate by Senator Kathy Stein (D-District 13).
“It is important for young people to receive real sex education so that they can make informed decisions about their health and their futures,” said Jen Heitel Yakush, director of public policy for the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. “We hope that this bill marks a true turning point away from the failed abstinence-only-until-marriage approach that has been so prevalent in the state and toward providing Kentucky’s young people with the comprehensive sex education they need.”
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[1] Joseph Gerth, “Advocates Rally for Sex Education,” The Courier-Journal, 4 February 2010, accessed 15 February 2010, <>.

[2] Kentucky House Bill 119, 2010 State Legislative Session, <>.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Program of Studies—Revised 2006, Kentucky Department of Education, accessed 17 February 2010, 502 <>.

[7] “Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in Kentucky,” (New York: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, July 2008), accessed 15 February 2010, <http://www.siecus.local/_data/global/images/SIECUS%20KYReport%20July08.pdf>.

[8] Eric King, “Sex Ed: Should It Be Mandatory?” WLKY, 4 February 2010, accessed 15 February 2010, <>.

[9] Associated Press, “Pro sex-ed rally held in Capitol,” Lexington Herald-Leader, 5 February 2010, accessed 15 February 2010, <>.