California’s Sex Education Snapshot
The State of Sex Education
Advocates have celebrated significant success in advancing sex education in California, largely due to the passage of the California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) in 2015, along with an equivalent version for charter schools that passed in 2018. CHYA requires school districts to provide comprehensive sex education and has been used as a model to advance sex education nationwide.
In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic presented unique challenges in ensuring young people receive comprehensive sex education across the state. Advocates have worked to support districts in implementing programming during distanced learning, although they reported that the variances in online learning have resulted in little consistency in regards to the way curriculum is delivered, the content that is covered, or how students are engaging with instruction. Further, advocates hosted state wide and local virtual meetings with school districts to discuss current sex education programming. Early in the pandemic, some districts temporarily suspended sex education instruction, but have since resumed with the support of educators and a comprehensive plan to deliver instruction. Some districts have also implemented additional training for educators teaching sex education virtually and have promoted online safety practices to staff, students, and parents.
Despite this, there continues to be concerns regarding privacy as students receive instruction. Advocates are currently working to increase funding for more comprehensive professional development opportunities for sex educators. In 2021 SB 170, the Budget Act of 2021, was enacted by the Governor to address these concerns. Funds were allocated within this budget to develop teacher training resources to support LGBTQ+ youth and support existing positions and workload related to sex education.
Advocates report that districts often use Be Real. Be Ready, Making Proud Choices!, Positive Prevention Plus, Rights, Respect, Responsibility (3R’s), and Teen Talk/Puberty Talk to provide young people with comprehensive instruction. The California Department of Education also recently updated the Health Education Curriculum Framework to provide guidance for educators that teach sex education, including the use of inclusive language and instruction on consent. In 2018, two pieces of legislation were enacted to allow schools to provide instruction on the potential risks of sharing sexually suggestive or explicit materials through digital media, and require schools to include information on how social media and mobile devices are used for human trafficking.
While comprehensive sex education is mandated statewide, it is reported that more rural and low-income communities continue to lack support in implementing curriculum. A 2019 report developed by Equality California revealed that 28 of 130 responding school districts continue to lack inclusive policies and have exclusionary curriculum that is not culturally responsive to the needs of LGBTQ young people. Additional priority districts outlined in Equality California’s report likely require additional assistance to ensure that curriculum is trauma informed and culturally responsive to the needs of young people of color.
To assist with the continued implementation of the CHYA, several coordinated efforts across California are underway to ensure youth are receiving comprehensive sex education. The Sexual Health Education Roundtable, made up of a variety of California educators, researchers, health providers, and advocates, have worked since 2002 to strengthen sex education through legislation, funding, and administrative guidance. Organizations such as California Latinas for Reproductive Justice advocate for comprehensive sex education and address misinformation spread about the CHYA through community education efforts. The Adolescent Sexual Health Work Group is also dedicated to the continued promotion and protection of legislation concerning the sexual and reproductive health of youth in California. Districts, such as the San Diego Unified School District, provide guidance across the state to support the implementation of curriculum that aligns with the CHYA. Advocates are also working to address gaps in the curriculum requirements, including the need for more explicit requirements in grades 6 and K-5, as current requirements have been described as “ambiguous” and sparked controversy. Overall, advocates are working to ensure compliance with the California Healthy Youth Act.
Despite the overwhelming support for comprehensive sex education in California schools, there has been a notable uptick in opposition attempting to restrict sex education in specific counties, including Orange County and Riverside. Advocates report that anti-LGBTQ groups such as the California Family Council and Informed Parents of California have attempted to persuade parents to opt their students out of sex education instruction and have increased efforts to influence restrictive sex education legislation by dominating school board meetings. Advocates have also reported efforts to shift the current opt-out system for sex education to opt-in, which would mean requiring parental permission prior to instruction. However, these efforts have been largely unsuccessful thus far.
Current advocates report that a lack of capacity to conduct enforcement activities, lack of funding to support training for educators, and the lack of a broad health education requirement all create barriers to sex education for young people in California. Additionally, advocates report an increased need to address the myths and concerns associated with comprehensive sex education. To address these barriers, advocates can take action by contacting their local school board to determine if their district is compliant with state law. They can then vocalize the important need for increasing capacity to advance sex education requirements in their community. Parents are also able to join local committee groups. 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. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for increasing funding to ensure low-income and rural communities are supported in implementing comprehensive sex education and increase efforts to address misconceptions of comprehensive sex education. 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
- California schools are required to teach sex education.
- Sex education instruction must be comprehensive.
- Curriculum must include information on abstinence.
- Curriculum must be culturally competent for students of all sexual orientations and gender identities, include instruction on gender identity and expression, and when providing examples of relationships and couples, include examples of same-sex relationships.
- Curriculum is not required to include instruction on consent. However, curriculum must include instruction that provides students with “knowledge and skills they need to form healthy relationships that are based on mutual respect and affection, and are free from violence, coercion, and intimidation.” The updated Health Education Curriculum Framework also includes instruction on affirmative consent.
- Parents or guardians can remove their children from sex education instruction or STI/HIV education classes. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
- Sex education instruction must be medically accurate.
State House Highlights
This section highlights sex education bills that were introduced during the 2021 state legislative session as well as bills that have been introduced thus far in 2022. These proposed billsprovide a brief overview of both recent and current legislative action taken to advance or restrict sex education. For a more comprehensive look at relevant legislation concerning sex education and related topics such as reproductive health care, 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 California’s profile.
2022 Legislative Session
Senate Bill 1222 (pending): Requires schools teach comprehensive sex education and HIV prevention education to grades 7-12. Authorizes instruction to grades earlier than grade 7 with age-appropriate and medically accurate information. Requires school districts to notify parents of sexual health education and HIV prevention education and inform them that the curriculum is available for inspection.
2021 Legislative Session
Assembly Bill 366 (pending): Aims to require the social worker overseeing a child who is at least 10 years of age and has been under the jurisdiction of the juvenile court for at least a year to determine if they have received comprehensive sexual health education and inform them of their right to access such information and services.
Senate Bill 170 (enacted): Provides funds to develop teacher training resources to support LGBTQ+ youth and support existing positions and workload related to sex education.
More on sex ed in California…
California Education Code § 51930-51939, known as the California Healthy Youth Act, requires school districts to ensure that all students in grades 7–12 receive comprehensive sex education and HIV/AIDS prevention education at least once in middle school and once in high school. It also mandates that the curricula be age-appropriate, medically accurate, objective, and “appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds; pupils with disabilities; and English learners.” The law further requires instruction to teach students about gender, gender expression, gender identity, and gender stereotypes.
Schools can elect to offer sex education earlier than grade 7, in which case they must adhere to the same requirements. No program may “promote or teach religious doctrine,” instruction must encourage parent-child communication about sexuality, and instruction must “provide information about the effectiveness and safety of all Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy, including, but not limited to, emergency contraception.” Parents or guardians may remove their children from sex education and/or sexually transmitted infection (STI)/HIV education classes.
In 2018, California enacted three pieces of legislation that impact sex education. Ch. 428 allows school districts to provide an optional component of sex education instruction on the potential risks and consequences of creating and sharing sexually suggestive or explicit materials through cell phones and digital media. Ch. 807 requires the already-mandated information about human trafficking in sex education instruction to further include information on how social media and mobile devices are used for human trafficking. Ch. 495 extends California’s Healthy Youth Act to charter schools, requiring them to provide comprehensive sexual health education in grades 7–12.
The Health Education Content Standards for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve, with a new version set to be released in 2020, and Health Education Framework for California Public Schools: Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve provide guidance for human sexuality instruction curriculum. Sexual Health instruction must be included in grades 7–12, but, starting in grade 6, students must learn how to “object appropriately to teasing or bullying of peers that is based on personal characteristics or perceived sexual orientation.” School districts, however, are not required to adopt these content standards.
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 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQ) individuals, attempts to restrict or prohibit instruction on “divisive concepts” such as Critical Race Theory, 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. California’s 2022 session convened on January 3, 2022.
|Assembly Bill 1071||Authorizes school districts to provide teen dating violence prevention education in grades 7-12 and allows for parent to excuse child from this instruction and for information related to it to be accessible on the website||Introduced (2023)||Abuse, Assault, & Violence Prevention||https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240AB1071#99INT|
|Assembly Bill 1078||States that school districts can only remove books from libraries with approval of the state board. Ensures that when instructional materials are approved that they include the contributions of people of all gender expressions and especially of LGBTQIA americans. and are represented of California's diversity||Introduced (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240AB1078#99INT|
|Senate Bill 509||This bill instead would require a school district, county office of education, state special school, or charter school to ensure that all pupils in grades 1 to 12, inclusive, receive evidence-based, age-appropriate mental health education from instructors trained in the appropriate courses at least once in elementary school, at least once in junior high school or middle school, as applicable, and at least once in high school||Introduced (2023)||Mental Health||https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB509#99INT|
|Senate Bill 541||Requires each public school, including schools operated by a school district or county office of education and charter schools, to make condoms available to all pupils free of charge||Introduced (2023)||Reproductive Health Care||https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SB541#99INT|
|Assembly Bill 665||Requires each public school, including schools operated by a school district or county office of education and charter schools, to make condoms available to all pupils free of charge||Introduced (2023)||Reproductive Health Care||https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240AB665#99INT|
|Senate Resolution 13||Establishes February as Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month. Schools are called to observe the month with programs and activities that raise awareness about the dynamics of teen dating violence and that support youth in learning the skills to have safe and healthy relationships.||Introduced (2023)||Assault, Abuse, & Violence Prevention||https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240SR13#98ENR|
|The Safe and Supportive Schools Program (AB 5)||This bill would state the intent of the Legislature to enact subsequent legislation to ensure (1) that teachers get tools and training to support LGBTQ+ pupils and (2) that schools are safe and supportive for all pupils, teachers, and other employees.||Introduced (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=202320240AB5#99INT|
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 California’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.
California 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 California as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.
Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics
- 39.9% of California secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 65.9% of California 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
- 80.5% of California secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 92.7% of California 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
- 75.7% of California 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.
- 92.7% of California 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
- 73.9% of California 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.
- 88.6% of California 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
- 69.7% of California 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.
- 88.6% of California 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
- 50.1% of California secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 83.7% of California 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
- 67.5% of California secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 89.3% of California 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
- 63.9% of California secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 84.5% of California 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
- 62.8% of California secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 81.1% of California 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
- 70.3% of California 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.
Back to the SIECUS State Profiles