State Profiles

IOWA’S STATE OF SEX ED

Current Requirements At glance – Sex education is mandated in Iowa. Instruction must be age appropriate and research based, but is not required to align with the National Sex Education Standards.

  • Iowa schools are required to teach sex education, also known as “human growth and development instruction”. 
    • Iowa has no standard regarding the inclusion of abstinence in sex education curriculum. However, it permits abstinence-based or abstinence-only materials as long as those materials fall within the parameters of the law. 
  • Sex education instruction must be free of bias based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. 
  • Curriculum is not required to include instruction on consent. 
  • Parents or guardians may remove their children from any part of health education courses if the course conflicts with the student’s religious beliefs. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
  • Sex education curriculum must be medically accurate. 

RECENT LEGISLATION SHAPING THE STATE LANDSCAPE

Advocates have worked tirelessly to advance sex education in Iowa, their most recent efforts culminating in the introduction of several bills in 2022 that sought to improve sex education requirements. These bills included language to require instruction on topics such as consent, healthy relationships, sexual assault prevention, and LGBTQAI+ identities. One such bill, House File 2448, was introduced in an effort to require human growth and development instruction provided by school districts to include age-appropriate and research-based instruction inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health practices. Additionally, House File 2098 and companion bill Senate File 2071 were introduced in an effort to amend requirements for human growth and development instruction from kindergarten through grade 6 to include age appropriate and research based instruction on identifying parts of the body, the importance of empathy, and respecting physical boundaries. They would have also required age appropriate and research based instruction in grades 7 and 8 on consent, healthy relationships, and assault prevention. Two similar bills were also introduced in 2022: House File 2183, which would require school boards to provide age appropriate and research based instruction in healthy relationships and consent in grades 1 through 12, and House File 2449, which would have required instruction on consent in grades 1 through 12. These bills ultimately were unsuccessful, but they represent the commitment of Iowa advocates towards advancing sex education.

While the introduction of this series of bills demonstrates a significant effort among advocates to further advance sex education, there have also been efforts to restrict sex education and, more generally, discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom. Senate File 2205 was introduced in an effort to establish that teachers cannot be forced to teach about “the so-called fluidity of gender identity” if it contradicts their personal beliefs. Additionally, several bills were introduced to increase “parental rights.” One of these bills, Senate File 2024 was introduced by State Senator Jim Carlin (R-3) to prohibit instruction on gender identity in kindergarten and require written parental consent prior to instruction on gender identity in grades one through six. A similar bill, House File 2054, was introduced to allow for parents to review any instructional material related to sexual orientation or gender identity and requires schools to provide information on how to opt their children out from such instruction. Other regressive bills introduced in 2022 which sought to increase parental rights include Senate File 2205 and House File 819. While ultimately unsuccessful, these bills represent many challenges faced by advocates in Iowa’s legislative landscape. Legislative attacks that stigmatize the vital and important information provided by sex education are efforts to infringe upon young people’s right to access education that helps them make healthy, informed decisions for themselves. Moreover, the majority of parents and guardians along with the general public overwhelmingly support access to school-based sex education.

In 2023, SF 496 was enacted into law and will negatively re-shape human growth and development instruction in Iowa. Firstly, it repeals instruction on HPV and the HPV vaccine along with explicitly requiring instruction on AIDS. Secondly, it only allows for human sexuality instruction in grades seven through twelve (whereas previously it was first through twelfth grade). Finally, it prohibits any instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades kindergarten through sixth. Beyond impacting sex education, this law will require school faculty to report students who have requested to go by different pronouns or names. 

While schools must teach sex education that is in accordance with state statute, districts are tasked with determining the quality of sex education that is taught in local schools. Local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive.. Such discretion allows for the implementation of policies and curriculum that stigmatize marginalized youth, such as students of color and LGBTQIA+ youth, and presents further challenges in ensuring that low income districts have access to resources to implement sex education. While curriculum is not permitted to include bias based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, it is also not required to include instruction on such topics or be culturally responsive to the needs of young people of color. Advocates report that the current requirements, a lack of funding and the tumultuous political climate in Iowa all impede access to sex education. To support the implementation of advanced sex education, EyesOpenIowa provides a training program for professionals providing sex education and maintains a statewide program for young people to text their sexual health questions to a health educator. EyesOpenIowa also facilitates the Working to Institutionalize Sex Ed (WISE) Iowa Project to work with school district administration to implement sex education.

Right now, advocates can take action to ensure young people in their community have access to quality sex education. After contacting their local school board, advocates can determine what topics are missing from sex education instruction, such as instruction on consent, sexual orientation and gender identity, and contraceptives. They can then vocalize the important need for advancing sex education requirements in their community. Advocates are encouraged to take action on pending legislation that seeks to advance or restrict the principles of sex education. For a current overview of pending legislation, see table below. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for advancing sex education requirements. Actively addressing misinformation surrounding what’s included in sex education also helps to destigmatize discussion of sexuality in communities and strengthens future potential for advancing sex education requirements. Advocates are encouraged to use the SIECUS Community Action Toolkit to guide local efforts to advance sex education and to reach out to EducateUs to get connected to local advocacy groups such as EyesOpenIowa to get involved with state and local efforts to advance sex education.

 

More on sex ed in Iowa…


State Law: A Closer Look

Iowa Code 256.11 mandates that research-based, age-appropriate health education be taught in grades K–12, and the code details what must be covered in each grade. In grades 1–6, “the health curriculum shall include the characteristics of communicable diseases, including acquired immunodeficiency syndrome [AIDS].” In grades 7–8, health education must include “the characteristics of sexually transmitted diseases [STDs] … and AIDS.” In grades 9–12, students are required to take one unit of health instruction, which must include information on the “prevention and control of disease, including … [STDs] and [AIDS].” Previously, health curricula was required to include information about human papillomavirus (HPV) and the HPV vaccine. This was repealed in 2023, by the enactment of SF 496.

Iowa Code §§ 279.50 mandates that the curriculum use materials that are up-to-date, age-appropriate, and research-based/medically accurate. Furthermore, all information must be free of biases based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender. School districts shall teach age-appropriate, science-based, sex education as part of the health curriculum, but they may also use abstinence-only materials so long as those materials fall within the parameters of the law.

In 2023, SF 496 was enacted into law and prohibits instruction in human sexuality prior to seventh grade.

Parents or guardians may remove their children from any part of health education courses if the course conflicts with the student’s religious beliefs. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.

State Standards

Iowa provides the Iowa Core: K-12 21st Century Skills as guidance for curricula development. The only mention of sexual health in the standards is for students to be able to “describe the interrelationships of the wellness dimensions: physical, emotional, intellectual, environmental, social, sexual, and spiritual wellness during adolescence.”

State Legislation

State legislative activity related to sex education does not take place in isolation from the broader embroiled political and policy climate. In 2022, a national wave of attacks on the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or questioning (LGBTQAI+) individuals, attempts to restrict or prohibit instruction on “divisive concepts” such as “Critical Race Theory” (which is not taught in public schools), and efforts to limit access to abortion care and other reproductive healthcare services swept the country in an effort to prevent students from receiving sex education and accessing sexual and reproductive healthcare services. Below are highlights of current legislative activity related to these topics. Iowa’s 2024 annual legislative session convenes January 8, 2024.

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
House File 620Prohibits school districts and charter schools from taking disciplinary action against teachers, admin, or students for not respecting name changes or pronounsIntroduced (2023)LGBTQIA+https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/90/HF620.pdf
House File 623Prohibits gender transition procedures for minorsDead (2023)LGBTQIA+https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/90/HF623.pdf
House File 361Prohibits dissemination of obscene materials in schools and creates actions to determine what is considered "obscene"Introduced (2023)"Sexually Explicit" and "Obscene" Materialshttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/90/HF361.pdf
Senate File 81Prohibits schools and higher ed institutions from instructing or promoting divisive conceptsIntroduced (2023)Racial Justice, Equity, and Inclusionhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/90/SF81.pdf
Senate Fill 482"Requires schools to designate multiple occupancy restrooms/ changing areas fpr use by one sex and prohibits a persn from entering one if their sex does not correspond with the sex it is designated for. Allows schools to allow students to use a single-stall unisex bathroom/changing area with written parental consent"Enacted (2023)LGBTQIA+https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=90&ba=SF482
Senate File 212Prohibits discrimination or legal action from the state regarding how a person guides, instructs, or raises a child, or intends to guide, instruct, or raise a child, based on or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious beliefIntroduced (2023)Foster Carehttps://legiscan.com/IA/text/SF212/2023
Senate File 496Requires parental permission for students to participate in YRBS. Prohibits any instruction or programming related to gender identity or sexual orientation in grades K-6th grade). Strikes the requirement for schools to teach about AIDS and HPV. Requires schools to develop a K-12 library program where it only contains "age appropriate materials" aligned with achievement goals of state. Defines age appropriate as not having any mention or referring to a "sex act". Requires curriculum transparence proceduresEnacted (2023)Sex Educationhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SF496.html
House File 622Permits public schools to designate and allow the use of restrooms and changing facilities only by persons of the same sex.Failed (2023)LGBTQIA+ Rightshttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF622.html
Senate File 538Prohibits any individual from facilitating or causing hormonal or surgical gender transition for a minor.Enacted (2023)LGBTQIA+ Rightshttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGE/90/attachments/SF538.html
House File 486Establishes fundamental parental rightsIntroduced (2023)"Parental Rights" and Curriculum Censorshiphttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF486.html
House File 480Include instruction of inclusive human sexuality and effectiveness of contraceptive methods such as condoms, contraceptive implants, and IUDs to human growth and development curriculumIntroduced (2023)Sex Educationhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF480.html
House File 482Prohibits persons from using school restrooms not in accordance with their biological sexIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF482.html
House Study Bill 222Requires school libraries to have comprehensive list of all books that were removed from the library and for this list to be updated monthly, requires human growth and development to be age appropriate and research based, removes mention of AIDS and HPV, human sexuality instruction only in grades 4-12, no SOGI instruction in K-3, establishes parental rights in educationIntroduced (2023)Sex Educationhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HSB222.html
House Study Bill 208Permits schools to develop policy restricting bathroom access by biological sex; creates private right of action for someone who encounters "member of opposite sex" in restroomIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HSB208.html
House Study Bill 214Prohibits gender affirming care for minorsIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HSB214.html
Senate Study Bill 119Prohibits gender affirming care for minorsIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SSB1197.html
House File 348Prohibits instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation in grades K-6. Prohibits human growth and development instruction in K-6 from including any material or survey or program that related to SOGI; Amended to add protection and covering legal fees if schools face civil action suit for implementing thisPassed House (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF348.html
Senate File 296Requires educators to be trained annually on evidence-based educator and student mental healthIntroduced (2023)Mental Healthhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SF296.html
House File 367Prohibits schools from taking disciplinary action against students and employees who use "legal" name of other student or employee or refuse to use their preferred pronounsIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF367.html
Senate File 335Prohibits persons transgender students from using school restrooms in accordance with gender identityIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ba=SF335&ga=90
Senate Study Bill 114Requires school libraries to have comprehensive list of all books that were removed from the library and for this list to be updated monthly, requires human growth and development to be age appropriate and research based, removes mention of AIDS and HPV, human sexuality instruction only in grades 4-12, no SOGI instruction in K-3, establishes parental rights in educationIntroduced (2023)Parental Rights, Curriculum Transparency, and Book Banshttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SSB1145.html
Senate File 159Requires human growth and development instruction to be "age appropriate and research-based". This instruction will include information on human sexuality, self-esteem, stress management, interpersonal relationships, domestic abuse, HPV and the availability of a vaccine to prevent HPV, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome. Prohibits instruction and any surveys on SOGI in K-8Introduced (2023)Sex Educationhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SF159.html
Senate File 129Provides civil penalties for provision of gender affirming care to minorsIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SF129.html
Senate File 110Provides private right of action to minors who undergo gender transition procedures and basically prohibits state funding of gender affirming care, which will likely scare off doctorsIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SF110.html
Senate File 83Prohibits instruction on gender identity from grades K-8Introduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SF83.html
Senate File 66Requires health education in K-6 to include identifying parts of the body, must be age-appropriate and research-based, must cover empathy and respecting boundaries. Requires health education in 7-12 to cover consent, sexual violence preventionIntroduced (2023)Sex Educationhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/SF66.html
House File 8This bill prohibits instruction related to gender identity and sexual orientation in school districts and charter schools in kindergarten through grade threeDead (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF8.html
House File 180Prohibits school districts from facilitating any accommodation to affirm a student’s gender identity and prohibits encouraging a student to undergo any medication treatment or procedure to affirm their genderIntroduced (2023)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGI/90/attachments/HF180.html

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 Iowa’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here. At the time of publication, the 2021 YRBS data was not made available yet.

Iowa School Health Profiles Data 

In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released the 2020 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 22 sexual health education topics as critical for ensuring a young person’s sexual health. Below are key instruction highlights for secondary schools in Iowa as reported for the 2019–2020 school year.

Reported teaching all 22 critical sexual health education topics

  • 23.7% of Iowa secondary schools taught students all 22 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 34.8% of Iowa secondary schools taught students all 22 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

  • 78.1% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8. 
  • 81.1% of Iowa 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

  • 70.7% of Iowa 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.
  • 77.7% of Iowa 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

  • 79.7% of Iowa 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. 
  • 79.2% of Iowa 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

  • 64.9% of Iowa 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. 
  • 76.0% of Iowa 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

  • 38.0% of Iowa secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8. 
  • 49.5% of Iowa 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

  • 60.9% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 73.8% of Iowa 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 diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities

  • 43.8% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 52.6% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about diversity of sexual orientations and gender identities in a required course in any of grades 9, 10, 11, or 12.

Reported teaching about  how gender roles and stereotypes affect goals, decision-making, and relationships

  • 52.5% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about gender roles and stereotypes in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 63.4% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about gender roles and stereotypes 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 

  • 56.1% of Iowa 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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