State Profiles

Iowa’s Sex Education Snapshot

Advocates have worked tirelessly to advance sex education in Iowa, their most recent efforts cumulating in the introduction of seven bills that sought to improve sex education requirements during the 2019 legislative session. The bills included language to require instruction on topics such as consent, dating violence, LGBT health practices, mental health, and suicide prevention. Additionally,  House File 3, was introduced by Representative Steven Holt in an effort to establish a working group that would provide recommendations for implementing sexual abuse and sexual assault awareness and prevention curriculum in human growth and development classes. While the introduction of the series of bills demonstrates a significant effort among advocates to further advance sex education, all eight bills were ultimately unsuccessful. In addition to these eight proactive bills, legislation was also introduced to restrict access to sex education. House Bill 429, introduced by Representative Sandy Salmon, sought to require parental permission for students to participate in sex education instruction, known as an “opt-in” requirement.  “Opt-in” requirements present additional unnecessary barriers to receiving sex education.

Beyond sex education, legislators have actively worked to limit access to abortion care, including the implementation of a 20 week abortion ban. Legislators have also worked to limit the ability of health educators to provide comprehensive sex education in Iowa schools. In 2017, the Iowa Legislature adopted a new health and human services budget that allocated 3 million dollars to fund family planning service providers that do not offer abortion care under a new Family Planning Program in lieu of accepting 3 million dollars in federal Medicaid funding. Since the implementation of the new program family planning service providers have seen a staggering 85 percent decline in the use of services. Advocates report that this sharp decline demonstrates that Iowa residents are no longer able to access the reproductive health care that they need. In 2019, the legislature adopted a new health budget bill that prohibits Planned Parenthood of the Heartland from receiving two federal grants to facilitate their sex education programming. While the law has been temporarily blocked, advocates must continue to monitor restrictive attempts to limit the implementation of comprehensive sex education in additon to monitoring efforts to further restrict access to abortion care. A critical part of comprehensive sex education is providing young people with the information they need to acces the full range of sexual and reproductive health care services available to them. This includes instruction on abortion, along with all other potential pregnancy options.

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. Mandating local control over sex education presents unique challenges that have resulted in a glaring disparity regarding the quality of sex education that students receive. Advocates report that the FLASH curriculum along with Rights, Respect, Responsibility (3R’s) are most often used to teach sex education, although there is no current system to monitor what curricula are taught across the state.

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 resources to implement comprehensive sex education. While curriculum is not permitted to include bias based on race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity, it is 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 more comprehensive 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 advanced 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. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for advancing comprehensive sex education requirements. Actively addressing misinformation surrounding what’s included in comprehensive 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.

State Sex Education Policies and Requirements at a Glance

  • Iowa schools are required to teach sex education.
  • Curriculum is not required to be comprehensive.
  • 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.

State House Highlights

This section highlights sex education bills that were introduced during the 2020 state legislative session as well as bills that have been introduced thus far in 2021. These proposed bills ​provide 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, and HIV/AIDS, continue reading on to the “State Legislative Activity” section of Iowa’s profile.

2021 Legislative Session 

House File 192 (pending): Aims to require health education to include child sexual abuse and child sexual assault awareness.

House File 376 (pending): Aims to require sex education to be inclusive of LGBTQ health practices, self esteem, stress management, interpersonal relationships, domestic abuse, HPV and availability of the HPV vaccine, and AIDS. Further requires the standards for United States history, geography, economics, civics, and government to include the histories, contributions, and perspectives of Native Americans, people of African, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Latino, Middle Eastern heritage, women, persons with disabilities, immigrants or refugees, and LGBTQ people.

Senate File 58 (pending): Aims to require sex education to include instruction on dating violence and affirmative consent.

Senate File 381 (pending): Aims to require schools to provide comprehensive sex education.

2020 Legislative Session

No bills have been introduced concerning sex education to date.

 

More on sex ed in Iowa…


State Law

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].” Additionally, health curricula must include information about human papillomavirus (HPV) and the HPV vaccine.

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.

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 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, 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. The 2021 session convened on January 11, 2021. 

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
House File 2577Requires for steps be taken towards curriculum transparency and making accessible for review and for a procedure to be developed to review curriculum, instructional materials, and library booksPassed House (2022)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGR/89/attachments/HF2577.html
Senate File 2369Establishes parental bill or rights which includes the right to review curricula, direct upbringing, the right to give consent prior to child receiving any instruction that contains "sexually explicit material", review library materialsPassed Senate; Referred to House Appropriations Committee (2022)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGR/89/attachments/SF2369.html
Senate File 2025Restricts persons from entering school bathrooms not according to biological sexReferred to Senate Committee on Education (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.billtrack50.com/billdetail/1424397
House File 2309Restricts participation in interscholastic sports to requiring players to play on teams in accordance to biological sexWithdrawn (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://www.billtrack50.com/billdetail/1451372
Senate File 2342Restricts participation in interscholastic sports to requiring players to play on teams in accordance to biological sexWithdrawn (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/3755a730e9cb27ea6315fbf2d7dce460d80c9c65d8b5e58577d8e2483ae9e4dbe97841bc9087c9b79086c1a8b0b13291
House File 2416Restricts participation in interscholastic sports to requiring players to play on teams in accordance to biological sexEnacted (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/22dd7bc90cce33fb406c235b544eabbe94b7bb64573cc833cee6a767a652f66c9cf3614c088743174825186ec502f0c3
House File 2449Requires that human growth and development instruction provided by school districts include instruction on consent.Referred to House Committee on Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/230014add659e53f679696a7414d2b1052880fa49d28be94b97b81eefa1c406db76bf8bf3713cb520fe1460df0dfe463
House File 2448Requires that human growth and development instruction provided by school districts include age-appropriate and research-based instruction inclusive of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender health practices.Referred to House Committee on Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/9bb7ec831443e1550763a0bfc5f408c50040afa2e401e999e8e44359cb85d2ebdfe611f4a5d72167a25ef4366a4e6a8b
House File 2183Requires school boards to provide instruction on healthy and safe dating relationships and the meaning and operationalization of consent for sexual activityReferred to House Committee on Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/9423f31209ef4ac519c53e11dc0064e4efdc2f60a2d30c5c971ce3d8540aaa458d64b1da6d36797e98c943a291dc14f3
Senate File 2205Establishes the right of parents to know all instructional material being taught to the child , who is teaching the child, the ability to access knowledge related to who is in contract with the school, access to evaluations and record of the child. Prohibits school district from requiring student participation in any evaluation or assessment that involves "obscene material" without consent of parent and from allowing child to access obscene material in library without parental consentReferred to Senate Committee on Education (2022)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/921d1a70220ec3ce81dff4e62fe97788828131a847ffcca3a9e6f1c59ea7f5476619b215bca65dea081b42ba94a6412d
House File 2098Amends requirements for human growth and development instruction in kindergarten to include instruction on identifying parts of the body, and importance of empathy and respecting physical bodies and similarly in grades one through six in the health curriculum. Requires instruction in 7th and 8th grade to include age appropriate education on consent, healthy relationships, and assault preventionReferred to House Committee on Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/96c4d47532cc383c8816538d1e0ade85a856a5b55847a3c96a59bf0e873abc52913301e1066c8998a19f9110825e89c9
House File 2054Allows parents to inspect any curriculum, instruction, or activity related to sexual orientation and gender identity and requires schools to provide information on how to do so as well as how to excuse child from instructionReferred to House Committee on Education (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/e46b8e8c5b6065580f37fe77f9120a6b3c4c44fd62dc05590e5dc1483e071f3dfe84c62f7ed110b76580ed93772f1176
House File 2053Provides that teachers do not have to teach about systemic racism or gender identity if it goes against their philosophical or religious beliefsReferred to House Committee on Education (2022)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/cae58cf2aaafbc1f077c1e6ac0e59399c4120854ac1dd5f24aa822952bdbcefb75c1f588482e6ad07976459d60b3aabd
Senate File 2071Establishes age-appropriate and research-based health and human growth curriculum for kindergarten through eighth grade.Referred to Senate Committee on Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/50ac3474178b3ceb1b9a8e06a591efa0f8cc35a3cfc2d0e44ba365a88bdaafe2ee0635c55a3acaf334a92711354e5daa
Senate File 2024Prohibits instruction on gender identity in kindergarten and requires written parental consent prior to instruction on gender identity in grades one through sixReferred to Senate Committee on Education (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/63214c713d7146456a12c7324abcee42235b4fb2d2ceb530f871c18619c3f9c358f1294667899b4993a51b00c05b1823
Senate File 248Requires training on cultural responsiveness, restorative justice, for school administrators and teachersReferred to Senate Committee on Education (2021)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/521abe10b9c7718164ec9ed5ec566c7942c71fc624eddcf5aede550613591e2ed4e2c5b5fa3b2f1921ec10832fdf3bd6
Senate File 478Prohibits public institutions of higher education and school districts from instruction on divisive concepts as a part of employee or student training.Re-referred to House Committee on Judiciary (2021)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/faa8ff7689b4eaa05881a1bab816a42316e3ea946d648ccfeed8fdc1f5f8f29e00581bf2c35ae7af4ee4c1893d478987
House File 876Requires teachers complete cultural competency training for licensing renewalReferred to House Committee on Education (2021)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/92a4ba4a7a539cd451af4dd77971052f4887e38310a614b7c4419807a44f4d0b68705cd02d385434fdbb715beb9d1f45
House File 819Reinforces parental rights over the education and upbringing of childReferred to Senate Judiciary Committee (2021)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://s3.amazonaws.com/fn-document-service/file-by-sha384/f30be11b49c396dc387bd390ccf56eb899532ae965ce220b1aee0a9f96595ae0bd7f8699af1fb282a9d8a773b72acbb6
House File 192Requires sex education to include instruction on child sexual abuse and child sexual assault awareness and prevention in grades K-12. Referred to the House Committee on Public Safety; subcommittee recommends passage (2021) Sex Education https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/HF192.html
House File 193Prohibits medical professionals from providing gender affirming care to minors. Referred to the House Committee on Human Resources (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/HF193.html
House File 267Asserts that life begins at conception; providing the fetus protections guaranteed to all persons by the constitutions of Iowa and the United States. Referred to the House Committee on Human Resources (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/HF267.html
Senate File 58Requires sex education to include instruction on dating violence and affirmative consent. Referred to the Senate Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/SF58.html
Senate File 167Requires the written consent of a parent or guardian prior to a student receiving instruction on gender identity. Referred to the Senate Subcommittee on Education (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/SF167.html
Senate File 377Prohibits abortion after 12 weeks postfertilization. Referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/SF377.html
Senate File 381Requires schools to provide comprehensive sex education. Referred to the Senate Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/SF381.html
House File 376Requires sex education to be inclusive of LGBTQ health practices, self esteem, stress management, interpersonal relationships, domestic abuse, HPV and availability of the HPV vaccine, and AIDS. Further requires the standards for United States history, geography, economics, civics, and government to include the histories, contributions, and perspectives of Native Americans, people of African, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Latino, Middle Eastern heritage, women, persons with disabilities, immigrants or refugees, and LGBTQ people. Referred to the House Committee on Education (2021) Sex Education https://www.legis.iowa.gov/docs/publications/LGi/89/attachments/HF376.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.

Iowa 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 Iowa as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.

Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics

  • 35.5% of Iowa secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 35.5% of Iowa 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

  • 71.7% 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.
  • 85.6% 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

  • 69.8% 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.
  • 86.5% 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

  • 72.9% 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.
  • 86.4% 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

  • 66.5% 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.
  • 85.5% 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

  • 45.7% of Iowa secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 69.2% 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

  • 56.7% 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.
  • 81.6% 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 sexual orientation

  • 51.1% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 70.3% of Iowa 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

  • 54.5% of Iowa secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 69.6% of Iowa 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 

  • 45.9% 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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