Kentucky’s Sex Education Snapshot
Advocates have worked diligently to advance sex education in Kentucky over the past few years, most recently cumulating in the introduction of House Bill 296, known as the Education for Healthy Youth Act. This bill, introduced by Representative Lisa Willner, sought to require comprehensive sex education in all Kentucky schools for students in grades K-12. While ultimately unsuccessful, the bill marks an important effort to continue to advance curriculum. The bill follows the re-introduction of House Bill 185 during the 2019 legislative session. Introduced by Representative Tom Burch, the bill sought to establish curriculum standards for sex education in grades 4-12, but was ultimately unsuccessful. While these recent efforts aimed to advance sex education, past legislative actions have attempted to restrict curriculum. In 2018, Senate Bill 71 was signed into law and requires sex education curriculum to include instruction on abstinence as the desirable goal for young people and the only certain way to avoid unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), and other associated health problems. It also requires teaching that establishing a permanent, mutually faithful, monogamous relationship is the best way to avoid STDs.
While Kentucky schools are required to provide instruction on responsible sexual behavior, including abstinence and preventing pregnancy, preventing STDs, and the basic reproductive system and functions, local school boards are responsible for identifying any additional curriculum schools provide. Curriculum is not required to be medically accurate, culturally responsive to the needs of young people of color, or include instruction on topics such as sexual orientation, gender identity, consent, healthy relationships, or contraceptive options. Young people’s access to health services and accurate information is further limited by restrictions on reproductive health care and abortion rights, such as those imposed by House Bill 91, enacted on March 30, 2021 and introduced by Representative Joe Fischer. This bill, enrolled as Ch. 174, amends the Constitution of Kentucky to state that nothing in the Constitution secures or protects the right to abortion or requires the funding of abortion care.
While some counties, such as Lee County Schools, offer comprehensive sex education, others continue to fail to meet the needs of young people. Students report that curriculum continues to fall short and express a need for instruction on sexual abuse, consent, contraception and healthy relationships within sex education instruction. One student, a survivor of sexual assault, reported that her abstinence-only instructor made her feel like “damaged goods” after comparing women who have premarital sex to used pieces of tape. Advocates report that the current state standards are so vague that educators are often unsure of what they are permitted to teach, and opt to not teach sex education at all.
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. 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.
In efforts to further advance sex education in Kentucky, coalitions such as Louisville Sex Education Now and Lex Ed are working to advance comprehensive sex education in Jefferson County Public Schools and Fayette County Public Schools. Sexy Sex Ed, an Appalachian-based organization, also provides after-school programming for young people and facilitates trainings to teach community members how to facilitate a sex education workshop.
Right now, advocates can take action to ensure young people in their community have access to quality sex education. In 2017, a report found that a majority of parents whose children attended middle school in a rural Appalachian town believe that sex education should begin in middle school and that abstinence-plus curriculum should be taught. These results demonstrate a unique opportunity for advocates to increase support for quality sex education. After identifying what topics are missing from local sex education requirements, advocates can 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 and includes instruction on consent, healthy relationships, and contraceptives. Advocates can also emphasize the importance of requiring curriculum to be evidence-based and medically accurate. Further, advocates can contact their representatives to discuss the critical need for advancing sex education requirements and increasing funding to support the implementation of comprehensive sex education in districts that lack the capacity to do so. 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
- Kentucky schools are required to teach sex education.
- Curriculum is not required to be comprehensive.
- Curriculum must include instruction on abstinence as the desirable goal for school-age youth.
- Curriculum is not required to include instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity.
- Curriculum is not required to include instruction on consent.
- Kentucky has no standard regarding the ability of parents and guardians to remove their children from sex education instruction.
- Kentucky has no standard regarding medically accurate sex education instruction.
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 Kentucky’s profile.
2021 Legislative Session
House Bill 462 (pending): Aims to require schools to provide healthy relationships instruction in grades K-12. Such instruction, among other topics, must include age, developmentally, and culturally appropriate instruction on human development and reproduction, healthy relationships, developing effective communication skills, healthy decision making skills, the use of contraceptives, the benefits of abstinence, recognition of the roles that traditions, values, religion, norms, gender roles, acculturation, family structures, health beliefs, and political power play into decisions that affect students health, and sexual orientation and gender identity.
2020 Legislative Session
House Bill 296 (failed): Sought to require each school district to provide comprehensive sex education.
Senate Bill 116 (failed): Sought to assert that a parent has unalienable rights, including directing the education of their children, reviewing all school records related to their children, directing the upbringing and moral or religious training of their children, and making and consenting to all physical and mental healthcare decisions for their children.
More on sex ed in Kentucky…
Kentucky Revised Statute 156:160 requires that the Kentucky Board of Education “promulgate administrative regulations establishing standards [that public] school districts shall meet.” With that authority, 704 KAR 3:305 was promulgated, requiring students to take 0.5 credits of health education in order to graduate. It also requires the health education course to include the content standards delineated in the Kentucky Core Academic Standards. Furthermore, 704 KAR 3:303 adopted the Kentucky Academic Standards into law.
In 2018, Kentucky enacted Chapter 156, stating that any human sexuality or STD curricula must include instruction on abstinence, state that “abstinence from sexual activity is the desirable goal for all school-age children,” and advocate for “permanent mutually faithful monogamous relationship[s].”
Kentucky statute does not require parental permission for students to participate in sexuality or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS)-related instruction.
Sex education is mentioned within the “Practical Living (Health and Physical Education)” section of the Kentucky Academic Standards, which schools are required to follow. Students learn “how decision-making relates to responsible sexual behavior (e.g., abstinence, preventing pregnancy, preventing HIV/[sexually transmitted diseases] (STDs), and impacts the physical, mental, and social well-being of an individual.” Students also learn about the basic reproductive system and functions. No specific curriculum is required.
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. Kentucky’s 2021 session convened on January 5, 2021.
|House Bill 470||Prohibits gender affirming care for minors||Passed House (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/hb470/bill.pdf|
|House Bill 315||Requires school staff and administrators to be trained on recognizing trauma and incorporating age-appropriate and evidence-based interventions and strategies for child physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect awareness and prevention. Also requires each local board of education and board of a public charter school to develop a plan for implementing a trauma-informed approach including enhancing age-appropriate child abuse and neglect awareness throughout the school community and developing evidence-based child abuse and neglect prevention services and programs||Introduced (2023)||Abuse, Assault, and Violence Prevention||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/hb315/orig_bill.pdf|
|Senate Bill 102||Establishes parental rights and creates civil procedures for infringement of this, including the right to be informed of any change in emotional, mental, physical well being (forced outing clause), or a request to use pronouns not aligned with biological sex, targets transgender students by prohibiting school funding to schools creating gender inclusive spaces (bathrooms, locker rooms), prohibits instruction on "controversial subject matter", no instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in K-8, and also no instruction in K-9 unless part of required curriculum, teachers cannot discuss their sexual orientation and no logos slogans or symbols associated with sexual orientation and gender identity can be displayed on school property, establishes penalties for engaging in anything aforementioned, cannot show "obscene imagery" to minors||Introduced (2023)||Parental Rights, Curriculum Transparency, and Book Bans||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/sb102/orig_bill.pdf|
|Senate Bill 150||Requires school districts to notify parents of any health services offered at the school related to human sexuality and allow for parents to withhold consent, requires school to inform parents of any change in mental health services of students, prohibits BoE from requiring policies that affirm student's identity through use of pronouns. Schools must obtain parental consent before any well being questionnaire, must allow parents to review any sex ed instructional materials and allow for them to decline participation||Passed Senate (2023)||Sex Education||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/sb150/bill.pdf|
|House Bill 173||Requires public schools to establish parental rights, establishing cause of action for child encountering person of "opposite biological sex" in a location where "there is reasonable expectation of bodily privacy", cause of action for those forced by public school to share private quarters with "people of opposite biological sex", effectively targeting transgender students, forcibly out kids, no sexual orientation and gender identity instruction K-8, and 9-12 outside of approved curriculum and cannot teach "controversial subject matter"||Failed (2023)||Parental Rights, Curriculum Transparency, and Book Bans||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/hb173/orig_bill.pdf|
|House Bill 177||Establishes parental right to direct education and requires local boards of ed to develop policies to increase parental involvement including K-5 doesn't receive sex ed and no grade level receives SOGI instruction; requires written consent for name changes and pronouns||Introduced (2023)||Sex Education||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/hb177/orig_bill.pdf|
|House Bill 162||Prohibits mental health professionals from engaging in sexual orientation or gender identity change efforts in counseling minors (excludes affirming or accepting counseling of child's identity)||Introduced (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/hb162/orig_bill.pdf|
|House Bill 120||Prohibits gender affirming care for minors||Introduced (2023)||Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity||https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/recorddocuments/bill/23RS/hb120/orig_bill.pdf|
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 Kentucky’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.
Kentucky 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 Kentucky as reported for the 2017–2018 school year.
Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics
- 14.5% of Kentucky secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 44.3% of Kentucky secondary schools taught students all 20 [JD1] 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
- 63.3% of Kentucky secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 97.1% of Kentucky 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
- 48.2% of Kentucky 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.
- 91.4% of Kentucky 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
- 61.3% of Kentucky 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.
- 96.1% of Kentucky 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
- 41.9% of Kentucky 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.
- 90.3% of Kentucky 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
- 19.1% of Kentucky secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 60.7% of Kentucky 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
- 19.1% of Kentucky secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 60.7% of Kentucky 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
- 20.7% of Kentucky secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 61.9% of Kentucky 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
- 24.1% of Kentucky secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
- 54.6% of Kentucky 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
- 38.6% of Kentucky 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