State Profiles

Wisconsin Sex Education Snapshot

The State of Sex Education

Advocates have faced a continuous uphill battle in advancing Wisconsin sex education requirements since the state’s statute was revised in 2012 to no longer mandate instruction on human growth and development.  Additionally, schools that do teach sex education must stress abstinence. Since Wisconsin schools are not required to provide sex education to students, school districts are left to decide what type of sex education–any at all–they provide to youth that has 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.

Most recently, multiple bills concerning sex education have been introduced in 2021 and 2022. Senate Bill 796, introduced in 2021 by Senator Andre Jacque and carried over into 2022, sought to require a video depicting an abortion procedure be shown during sex education instruction. An identical bill, Assembly Bill 823, was introduced in 2022 by Representative Shae Sortwell. Additionally, Senate Bill 746, introduced in 2021 by Senator Jerry Petrowski and carried over into 2022, sought to require the Department of Public Instruction to develop a child sexual abuse prevention policy and instructional program for students in grades K-6 by July 1, 2022. A companion bill, Assembly Bill 764, was introduced in 2021 by Representative John Spiros and carried over into 2022. Senate Bill 986, introduced in 2022 by Senator Jerry Petrowski, aimed to require school boards to provide age-appropriate instruction to pupils regarding teen dating violence and sexual violence and establish certain criteria governing the instruction provided. All of these bills were unsuccessful and died in committee.

While some instructors work to make sex education more inclusive by bringing members of the school’s Gay Straight Alliance into their health classes to discuss sexuality, Wisconsin’s lack of requirements fail to ensure the same level of intentional instruction is included in health courses statewide. Educators report that course length and content depend on many factors, including the individual instructor, school board, and review committees.

Students report that their sex education curriculum placed more emphasis on the responsibility of women and included shame-based language that stigmatized young women who had already engaged in sexual activity. Others reported that instructors have compared sexually active young women’s bodies to chewed pieces of gum, a common sexual risk avoidance or abstinence-only program activity.

Despite the harmful sex education practices in parts of Wisconsin, young people statewide have demonstrated deep commitment to advancing the quality of sex education through multiple peer to peer education programs, such as Power to Determine. Additional options supplementing the sex education young people receive include programs through Planned Parenthood Wisconsin (PPWI). PPWI hosts Promotores de Salud, a training program empowering Latino community members to provide culturally-competent sexuality education in Spanish to their own networks. While advocates face an upbill battle in advancing sex education requirements statewide, advocates report that passionate community members play a powerful role in advancing sex education in their individual schools and districts.

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 consent, sexual orientation and gender identity, and contraceptives. They can then vocalize the important need for advancing sex education requirements in their community and contact their representatives. 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. 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

  • Wisconsin schools are not required to teach sex education. However, schools are required to provide STD education.
    • Curriculum is not required to be comprehensive.
    • If a school provides human growth and development instruction, curriculum is required to stress abstinence.
  • Curriculum is not required to include instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity. However, Human Growth and Development: A Resource Guide to Assist School Districts in Policy and Program Development and Implementation includes instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Curriculum is not required to provide instruction on consent. However, Human Growth and Development: A Resource Guide to Assist School Districts in Policy and Program Development and Implementation includes instruction on consent.
  • Parents or guardians may remove their children from the human growth and development instruction with a written request to the teacher or principal. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
  • If a school provides human growth and development instruction, curriculum 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 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, 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 Wisconsin’s profile.

2022 Legislative Session

Senate Bill 986 (Failed): Sought to require school boards to provide age-appropriate instruction to pupils, at least once in grades six to eight and at least once in grades 9 to 12, in the prevention of teen dating violence and sexual violence and establishes certain criteria governing the instruction provided.

Assembly Bill 823 (Failed): Sought to require video depicting abortion procedure to be shown during sex education instruction.

Senate Bill 746 (Failed): Sought to require the Department of Public Instruction to develop a child sexual abuse prevention policy and instructional program for students in grades K-6 by July 1, 2022. An identical companion bill was introduced in the Assembly.

Senate Bill 796 (Failed): Sought to require video depicting abortion procedure to be shown during sex education instruction. An identical companion bill was introduced in the Assembly.


More on sex ed in Wisconsin…


State Law

Wisconsin law § 115.35 establishes a “Health Problems Education Program,” which includes instruction on sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and human growth and development. While teaching about STDs is a required component, schools are no longer obligated to teach the human growth and development section due to a revision of Wisconsin law § 118.019 in 2012. To see a comprehensive list of changes to the law, please visit the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) website. If it is offered, the “Health Problems Education Program” must include:

  • 1. The importance of communication between the pupil and the pupil’s parents or guardians;
  • 2. Reproductive and sexual anatomy and physiology, including biological, psychosocial, emotional, and intellectual changes that accompany maturation; …
  • 5. The benefits of and reasons for abstaining from sexual activity … stress[ing] the value of abstinence as the only reliable way to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and identify[ing] the skills necessary to remain abstinent; …
  • 10. Adoption resources, prenatal care, and postnatal supports; and
  • 11. The nature and treatment of STIs.

An educational program in human growth and development must also “use instructional methods and materials that do not discriminate against a pupil based upon the pupil’s race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, or ethnic or cultural background or against sexually active pupils or children with disabilities.”

School boards that choose to provide instruction must provide annual notification to parents outlining the curriculum used for their child’s particular grade level. Parents and guardians must be given the opportunity to review all materials related to sex education classes. Parents or guardians may remove their children from the human growth and development instruction with a written request to the teacher or principal. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.

State Standards

The Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) has produced Human Growth and Development: A Resource Guide to Assist School Districts in Policy and Program Development and Implementation, which provides assistance on implementing the optional human growth and development curriculum. Furthermore, the DPI offers Wisconsin Standards for Health Education, which provide guidance for the general health education curriculum. “Risky sexual behaviors” are mentioned as a component of the curriculum.

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. Wisconsin’s legislature meets throughout the year. Wisconsin’s 2022 session convened on January 18, 2022.

 

 

TitleDescriptionStatusLegislative Topic
Senate Bill 31Prohibits gender affirming care.Died in the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://legiscan.com/WI/text/SB31/id/2264687/Wisconsin-2021-SB31-Introduced.pdf
Assembly Bill 14Prohibits gender affirming care.Died in the Assembly Committee on State Affairs (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://legiscan.com/WI/text/AB14/id/2257191/Wisconsin-2021-AB14-Introduced.pdf
Assembly Bill 273Required instruction in African American history in the elementary and high school grades and making an appropriation. (FE)Died in the Assembly Committee on Education (2022)Racial Equity & Justicehttps://legiscan.com/WI/text/AB273/id/2373935/Wisconsin-2021-AB273-Introduced.pdf
Senate Bill 326Prohibits conversion therapy.Died in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Children, and Families (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://legiscan.com/WI/text/SB326/id/2384947/Wisconsin-2021-SB326-Introduced.pdf
Senate Bill 598Requires parental consent before the provision of any school program that involves sexual orientation and gender identity.Died in the Senate Committee on Education (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb598
Senate Bill 986Requires school boards to provide age-appropriate instruction to pupils, at least once in grades six to eight and at least once in grades 9 to 12, in the prevention of teen dating violence and sexual violence and establishes certain criteria governing the instruction provided.Died in the Senate Committee on Education (2022)Sex Educationhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb986
Assembly Bill 977Prohibits physicians and health care providers from providing gender affirming care to minors.Died in the Assembly Committee on Health (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab977
Senate Bill 962Establishes certain rights to parents including the right to direct the education of their child which includes the right to review instructional material, the right to opt child out of specific instruction or class.Died in the Senate Committee on Education (2022)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb962
Assembly Bill 963Establishes certain rights to parents including the right to direct the education of their child which includes the right to review instructional material, the right to opt child out of specific instruction or class.Vetoed (2022)Parental Rights and Curriculum Transparencyhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab963
Senate Bill 915Prohibits health professionals from providing gender affirming care to minors.Died in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Children, and Families (2022)Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb915
Assembly Bill 823Requires video depicting abortion procedure to be shown during sex education instruction.Died in the Assembly Committee on Health (2022)Sex Educationhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab823
Senate Bill 796Requires video depicting abortion procedure to be shown during sex education instructionDied in the Senate Committee on Human Services, Children, and Families (2021)Sex Educationhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb796
Assembly Bill 764Requires the Department of Public Instruction to develop, by July 1, 2022, a child sexual abuse prevention policy and instructional program to be provided to pupils in grades K-6.Died in the Assembly Committee on Education (2022)Assault & Violence Preventionhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab764
Senate Bill 746Requires the Department of Public Instruction to develop, by July 1, 2022, a child sexual abuse prevention policy and instructional program to be provided to pupils in grades K-6.Died in the Senate Committee on Education (2022)Assault & Violence Preventionhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb746
Assembly Bill 312Prohibits mental health providers from engaging in conversion therapy with a minor. Referred to the Committee on Mental Health Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab312
Assembly Bill 370Prohibits medical professionals employed by the University of Wisconsin System or the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority to perform abortions or train others to perform abortions. Further, the University of Wisconsin System or the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority may not use funds or property to assist or enter into a contract or agreement to perform an abortion or train others to perform abortions.Referred to the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy (2021)Reproductive Health Care https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab370
Assembly Bill 467Establishes a task force to study the legal and societal barriers to equality for transgender, intersex, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals.Referred to the Assembly Committee on Assembly Organization (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab467
Assembly Bill 562Requires school districts that provide any curriculum relating to sexual orientation or gender identity to give parental notice. Referred to the Assembly Committee on Education (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab562
Assembly Bill 595Prohibits abortion based upon the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus. Laid on Table (2021) Reproductive Health Care https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/ab595
Senate Bill 31Prohibits physicians from engaging in conversion therapy with patients. Read a second time(2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2021-22/Htm/Bills/Senate%20Bills/5416.htm
Senate Bill 326Prohibits mental health providers from engaging in conversion therapy with a minor. Referred to the Senate Committee on Human Services, Children and Families (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb326
Senate Bill 593Prohibits abortion based upon the race, color, national origin, ancestry, or sex of the fetus. Ordered to a third reading(2021) Reproductive Health Care https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb593
Senate Bill 598Requires school districts that provide any curriculum relating to sexual orientation or gender identity to give parental notice. Referred to the Senate Committee on Education (2021) Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb598
Senate Bill 443Establishes a task force to study the legal and societal barriers to equality for transgender, intersex, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming individuals.Referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Legal Review and Consumer Protection. Sexual Orientation and Gender Identityhttps://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb443
Senate Bill 675Amends current code to remove barriers to abortion care. Referred to the Senate Committee on Health (2022)Reproductive Health Care https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2021/related/proposals/sb675

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 Wisconsin’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) results, click here.

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

Reported teaching all 20 critical sexual health education topics

  • 23.3% of Wisconsin secondary schools taught students all 20 critical sexual health education topics in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 49.0% of Wisconsin 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

  • 85.7% of Wisconsin secondary schools taught students about the benefits of being sexually abstinent in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 92.8% of Wisconsin 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

  • 70.8% of Wisconsin 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.
  • 90.2% of Wisconsin 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

  • 84.5% of Wisconsin 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.
  • 88.7% of Wisconsin 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

  • 65.0% of Wisconsin 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.
  • 87.3% of Wisconsin 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

  • 34.0% of Wisconsin secondary schools taught students how to correctly use a condom in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 71.8% of Wisconsin 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

  • 54.4% of Wisconsin secondary schools taught students about methods of contraception other than condoms in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 87.8% of Wisconsin 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

  • 52.0% of Wisconsin secondary schools taught students about sexual orientation in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 69.9% of Wisconsin 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

  • 58.9% of Wisconsin secondary schools taught students about gender roles, gender identity, or gender expression in a required course in any of grades 6, 7, or 8.
  • 70.9% of Wisconsin 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

  • 59.0% of Wisconsin 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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