State Profiles

Alabama’s Sex Education Snapshot

The State of Sex Education

Advocates across the state have worked tirelessly to advance Alabama’s sex education requirements over the past several years. Although legislation mandating comprehensive sex education has yet to be successful, the efforts of dedicated advocates across the state have most recently culminated in the passage House Bill 385, marking progress in advancing Alabama’s sex education curriculum requirements by making them more inclusive. House Bill 385 was introduced by Representative Laura Hall (D-19) and enacted on April 20, 2021. It requires sex education instruction to be medically accurate, removing the requirement for materials to highlight stigmatizing and false information about LGBTQ+ identities, and shifts instruction from an emphasis on self-control and ethical behavior to an emphasis on the importance of delaying sexual activity and discouraging risky sexual behavior.

Sex education is not currently mandated in Alabama, and schools that do teach sex education must emphasize abstinence. Because Alabama schools are not required to provide sex education to students, school districts are left to decide what type of sex education they provide to youth. Local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive. Despite the passage of House Bill 385, such discretion allows for the implementation of policies and curriculum that stigmatize marginalized youth, such as students of color and LGBTQ+ youth, and presents further challenges in ensuring that low income districts have access to the resources needed to implement comprehensive sex education. Black youth in particular face racist, systemic barriers to health care and comprehensive education. This has resulted in disproportionate representation among a variety of adverse health outcomes. For example, in 2017, nearly 70 percent of new HIV diagnoses among people ages 15-29 living in Alabama were reported among Black young people. Additionally, over 40 percent of new HIV diagnoses among men living in Alabama were reported by men who have had sex with men in 2019.

The coronavirus pandemic has continued to pose numerous barriers to ensuring all young people receive sex education across the state. Advocates report that the pandemic has significantly restricted their ability to provide sex education programming in schools and community organizations, but they are working to adapt curricula to fit a virtual format. They’ve also identified additional means of advocacy, including creating a sex education advocacy video with statewide partners to send to legislators and adapting educator trainings to an online platform.

Advocates across the state report that medically accurate, evidence-based, and culturally responsive information are among the biggest factors missing from Alabama’s sex education curriculum, even after the passage of House Bill 385. In efforts to alleviate these barriers, Planned Parenthood South East facilitates the Teen Advocates for Sexual Health Program (TASH), a peer education group that serves five schools from the Birmingham and Hoover School District. State advocates such as the Alabama Campaign for Adolescent Sexual Health have worked to ensure students receive evidence-based and evidence-informed curriculum through providing curricula training to educators, creating sexual health resources, and advocating for improved sexual health policies. Advocates such as AIDS Alabama also worked to help pass House Bill 385 which advanced sex education in the state by removing anti-LGBTQ instruction requirements and requiring instruction to be medically accurate. In 2020, Human Rights Watch released  “‘It Wasn’t Really Safety, It Was Shame’: Young People, Sexual Health Education, and HPV in Alabama,” which highlights the stark gaps in access to comprehensive sex education and the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine for Alabama youth.

State advocates in Alabama have reported that educators often lack information concerning the state’s sex education policy and are afraid of implementing the wrong curriculum. As a result, many opt to not provide any sex education at all. To advance sex education, advocates report a greater need for support from the Alabama Department of Education and more collaboration between current state partners. There is also a need for increased public knowledge regarding the need to advance sex education in addition to heightened ability to address common myths and concerns associated with comprehensive sex education. Additional funding for advanced sex education in addition to teacher training has also been identified as a significant barrier in advancing sex education.

Right now, advocates can take action in their communities to address misinformation about Alabama’s sex education requirements. They can contact their local board of education and determine what topics are missing from existing sex education curricula. Advocates can then vocalize the importance of implementing specific elements of comprehensive sex education, such as trauma informed, culturally responsive curriculum that addresses the needs of youth of color and LGBTQ youth, or medically accurate instruction on contraceptives, healthy relationships, and consent. Advocates are encouraged to take action on pending legislation that seeks to advance or restrict the principles of comprehensive sex education. For a current overview of pending legislation, see table below. Additionally, reach out to EducateUs to get connected to local advocacy groups such as Alabama Campaign for Adolescent Sexual Health and AIDS Alabama. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for a statewide comprehensive sex education mandate. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts to advance sex education.

State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance

  • Alabama schools are not required to teach sex education. However, students in grades 5-12 are required to receive instruction on HIV/AIDS through a health education program.
    • If a school chooses to teach sex education, curriculum must emphasize abstinence.
  • Alabama no longer requires that materials highlight stigmatizing and false information about LGBTQ+ identities, but statute does not require that sex education include instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.
  • HIV/AIDS curriculum, and sex education if offered, is not required to include instruction on consent.
  • Parents or guardians can remove their children from sex education instruction if they feel it contradicts their religious beliefs. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
  • Alabama now requires medically accurate sex education instruction, including the inclusion of the latest medical information when providing instruction on contraceptives.

State House Highlights

This section highlights 2021 sex education bills that were introduced during the last state legislative session and 2022 sex education bills that have been introduced during the current state legislative session thus far.  ​These proposed bills ​provide a brief snapshot of both recent and current legislative action taken to advance or restrict sex education. For a more comprehensive look at recent and current legislation concerning sex education and related topics such as reproductive healthcare, efforts to advance or restrict LGBTQ rights, racial equity and justice, parental rights, bullying and harassment, mental health, assault and violence prevention, and HIV/STIs as it impacts youth, continue reading on to the “State Legislative Activity” section of Alabama’s profile.

2022 Legislative Session

House Bill 118 (pending): Prohibits facilities operated on the property of a public K-12 school or operated by a public school district and employees of public K-12 schools acting within the scope of their employment from providing abortion services to public school students or counseling in favor of abortions.

2021 Legislative Session

House Bill 385 (enacted): Requires sex education be medically accurate, remove language pertaining to self control and ethical behavior related to abstinence and instead require curriculum to emphasize the importance of delaying sexual activity and discourage risky behavior, and remove the requirement to teach that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle. An identical, companion bill has been introduced in the Senate.

More on sex ed in Alabama…


State Law

Alabama state law does not require the teaching of sex education. However, a resolution adopted by the Alabama State Board of Education in 1987 does require that students in grades 5–12 receive instruction about HIV/AIDS through a health education program. Should schools choose to offer additional sex education, Alabama State Code Section 16-40A-2 sets minimum requirements for what must be taught, but specific content is developed locally. Among other things, the code requires “sex education or the human reproductive process” programs or curricula to include and emphasize that:

  1. abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only completely effective protection against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and AIDS when transmitted sexually.
  2. abstinence from sexual intercourse outside of lawful marriage is the expected social standard for unmarried school-age persons.

The code also states that:

  • A. course materials and instruction that relate to sexual education or STDs should be age-appropriate;
  • B. course materials and instruction that relate to sexual education or STDs should include:
    • 1. An emphasis on the importance of self-control and ethical conduct pertaining to sexual behavior.
    • 2. Statistics based on the latest medical information that indicates the degree of reliability and unreliability of various forms of contraception, while also emphasizing the increase in protection against pregnancy and protection against STDs, including HIV and AIDS, afforded by the use of various contraceptive measures …

Parents or guardians may remove their children from instruction pertaining to “disease, its symptoms, development, and treatment” if the content is in conflict with their religious beliefs. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.

State Standards

In addition to this code, Alabama Course of Study: Health Education provides the foundation for the minimum content requirements for topics such as HIV, STIs, and pregnancy prevention. The sexuality topics covered include: “societal expectations of remaining abstinent until married,” the “physical, social, and emotional effects,” of STIs, disease transmission, responsible decision-making, and refusal skills, among others.

State Legislative Activity

State legislative activity related to sex education does not take place in isolation from the broader embroiled political and policy climate. Attacks on the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, attempts to restrict or prohibit instruction on “divisive concepts” such as Critical Race Theory (CRT), and efforts to limit access to abortion care and other reproductive health care services  prevent students from receiving comprehensive sex education and accessing sexual and reproductive health care services. Below are highlights of current legislative activity related to these topics. Alabama’s 2022 legislative session convened January 11, 2022.

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
House Bill 50Requires local boards of education to provide feminine hygiene products in women's restrooms of certain schools at no cost to studentsEnacted (2022)Health Disparitieshttps://legiscan.com/AL/text/HB50/id/2564957/Alabama-2022-HB50-Enrolled.pdf
Senate Bill 292Prohibits teaching of divisive concepts under certain circumstances and allows teaching of the concepts in public institutions of higher education as long as assent to the concept is not compelledIndefinitely Postponed (2022)Racial Equity and Justicehttps://legiscan.com/AL/text/SB292/id/2536283/Alabama-2022-SB292-Introduced.pdf
House Bill 266Prohibits medical professionals from providing gender affirming care to minors and requires school administration and faculty to disclose gender identity of child to parentDied in Committee (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/05acbf027f40c2e28d4d6e6a83001cd6c19d71a51216a6791913320ca55c1d5b5defdd5c793328a1f85c039453fc02e9
Senate Bill 184Prohibits medical professionals from providing gender affirming care to minors and requires school administration and faculty to disclose gender identity of child to parentEnacted (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/a7b7df45652b9a129b627b5ab972b9e93cc2cb36fc6d4944ea3ac2300ae701a187595f616825d46882f9ccd69070d67d
House Bill 150Prohibits medical professionals from providing gender affirming care to minors and requires school administration and faculty to disclose gender identity of child to parentDied in House of Representatives committee on Judiciary (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/8e6f304522e61a179b218148930958f3bac6706c578dc6cc197e0a41efe54f91757fbe0314f7034308d872185961ad03
House Bill 322Requires for students to use bathroom facilities according to biological sex, effectively targeting transgender studentsEnacted (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/960aa07b780e958d90be3f75336ae8fd9287286408a97847342e7520056c334a5c7d9d56841f90c185ee7ed65dc13955
House Bill 312Prohibits instruction on divisive conceptsFailed (2022)Racial Equity and Justicehttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/979a821955a4610513829311c2edd1d81fde40be06e33c17de711507c0c770b3f640a8c4bdc4e3d2fdc48cfccb122acd
House Bill 118Prohibits facilities operated on the property of a public K-12 school or operated by a public school district and employees of public K-12 schools acting within the scope of their employment from providing abortion services to public school students or counseling in favor of abortions. Died in House committee on State Government (2022)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1e1ea7aa9e1b9e4cae3453d8c33225526bb744bfc95f85412a4b90c31e58f5444da3fa1391bdb04b8345dc26d562384c
House Bill 11Prohibits the instruction of divisive concepts related to race and sex as well as critical race theory from being taught in K-12 schoolsDied in House Committee on Education Policy (2022)Racial Equity and Justicehttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/ee10863a10dddc360a4e696dd7060fc7839f91801d62bcb5d1e51c6a38c4914819a86785dd5fc6f3b5f3a7351aa3ef19
House Bill 8Prohibits the instruction of divisive concepts related to race and sex as well as critical race theory from being taught in K-12 schoolsDied in House Committee on Education Policy (2022)Racial Equity and Justicehttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/b97f9590986181ac7df7f5f35065370c523cf6132f232c9c6345d3cb21ed5dcc9b8bf0f2581bdf595af3581bf24093b7
Senate Bill 5Prohibits medical professionals from providing gender affirming care to minorsDied in Senate Committee on Healthcare (2022) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1e8760cec1b4e5aad1d4e58d979c4b09331d63f427534feeeb5bc9363643ab59506c4a7f842e46770cc3a84ff1f10204
House Bill 1Prohibits physicians from providing gender affirming care and hormone treatments to minors.Failed to pass the House (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/6c907c6b0f5ee77c899f3ea1a3315e2f992c43f001d34efc81fce42d2d3e5ae5c44e3f3d629c040bc88622e9c7247d72
House Bill 377Prohibits medication abortion. Died in the House Committee on Judiciary (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/a7863ab41148d6b87460aa1a6b65cae5eae3bedb78f22fb1edbc7a56ee6de1f62183cafd2dde800f67f93f8ac569861c
House Bill 385 Requires sex education be medically accurate, removes language pertaining to self control and ethical behavior related to abstinence and instead requires curriculum to emphasize the importance of delaying sexual activity and discourage risky behavior, and removes the requirement to teach that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle.Enacted (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/1b25eb9e5c24d6c6968be8f2a9598ddc59f11abbf4897576f263b2214c590abe9ae541e511f5cf6c78d3a4d0060f0214
House Bill 620Prohibits the public funding of abortion services. Further, prohibits facilities operated at public K-12 schools and employees of public K-12 schools from providing abortion services or counseling in favor of abortions. Died in the House Committee on State Government (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/556ce293045d4216258b77f5a7e67c07281527b2371a7a06ebd72149a033747ab6048b59575ca37ad21cff02a934a329
Senate Bill 10 Prohibits physicians from providing gender affirming care and hormone treatments to minors.Died in the House (2021)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/28eef86509dd8e2d2875a00df0c3e70f2c8fafae9b05ae8bd48e118ebb902e73b07866979cb0a777b149201203373d47
Senate Bill 196Requires sex education be medically accurate, removes language pertaining to self control and ethical behavior related to abstinence and instead requires curriculum to emphasize the importance of delaying sexual activity and discourage risky behavior, and removes the requirement to teach that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle.Failed to pass the Senate (2021) Sex Education https://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/08308a0f708c1935c994b50b67dada2cf40bb990dd3a37c274995b441e3d8235ac2a5280a493aa092e83c87dd4fc82ee

Youth Sexual Health Data

Young people are more than their health behaviors and outcomes. While data can be a powerful tool to demonstrate the sex education and sexual health care needs of young people, it is important to be mindful that these behaviors and outcomes are impacted by systemic inequities present in our society that affect an individual’s sexual health and well-being. To learn more about Alabama’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.

Alabama School Health Profiles Data 

In 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the School Health Profiles, which measure school health policies and practices and highlight which health topics were taught in schools across the country. Since the data were collected from self-administered questionnaires completed by schools’ principals and lead health education teachers, the CDC notes that one limitation of the School Health Profiles is bias toward the reporting of more positive policies and practices. In the School Health Profiles, the CDC identifies 20 sexual health education topics as critical for ensuring a young person’s sexual health. Below are key instruction highlights for secondary schools in Alabama as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.

Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics

  • 13.5% of Alabama secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 33.5% of Alabama secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about the benefits of being sexually abstinent

  • 39.5% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 96.2% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy

  • 28.4% of Alabama secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 91.2% of Alabama secondary schools taught students how to access valid and reliable information, products, and services related to HIV, other STDs, and pregnancy in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships

  • 41.5% of Alabama secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 91.6% of Alabama secondary schools taught students how to create and sustain healthy and respectful relationships in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health

  • 28.7% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 82.4% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about preventive care that is necessary to maintain reproductive and sexual health in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching how to correctly use a condom

  • 16.3% of Alabama secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 45.6% of Alabama secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about methods of contraception other than condoms

  • 19.3% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 68.9% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about sexual orientation

  • 17.3% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 48.7% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression

  • 21.7% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 54.0% of Alabama secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported providing curricula or supplementary materials relevant to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning (LGBTQ) youth

  • 33.3% of Alabama secondary schools provided students with curricula or supplementary materials that included HIV, STD, or pregnancy prevention information relevant to LGBTQ youth.

(Visit the CDC’s School Health Profiles report for additional information on school health policies and practices.)

 

***The quality of sex education taught often reflects funding available for sex education programs. To learn more about federal funding streams, click here.

 

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