Let’s Talk About Sex Education: Planned Parenthood SHAREs

The following post comes to us via Tracey Sands, a graduate student at Arizona State University’s West Campus studying communication as it relates to advocacy. Tracey believes dialogue is an act of love and strives to empower others to find and use their voice. She is an education outreach intern at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Growing up, I was under the impression that sex was making out naked. I thought condoms were only used for protection against pregnancy. I did not understand that sex was meant for my pleasure. I thought I was a bad person for masturbating. All of these misconceptions, and more, would have been answered if I had comprehensive sex education. If only my school understood that access to sexuality information and services does not lead to increased sexual activity or riskier behaviors. On the contrary, if sex education were provided, I would have understood the reproductive, physical, and emotional components of sex. And rather than feeling confused and unsafe, I could have been empowered with the information I needed to make healthy choices about my own body.


Finding reliable sex education resources that specifically speak to your needs can be a daunting task.


In Arizona, sex education is optional, which leaves our local schools to determine what, if any, sex education is taught in their classrooms. Schools either completely opt out of sex education, or if they choose to provide it, have the option to teach abstinence-only or comprehensive curricula. Unfortunately, more often than not, schools in our state choose to opt out. (Here is an updated list of sex education by state provided by the Guttmacher Institute.)

The other common choice Arizona schools make is to implement an abstinence-only curriculum. Abstinence-only programs not only remain ineffective at their goal of promoting abstinence until marriage, they also withhold potentially lifesaving information; promote dangerous gender stereotypes; stigmatize sex, sexual health and sexuality; and perpetuate systems of inequity. These curricula ignore or deny the sexuality of young people, which has real consequences. They often ignore the range of values, desires, and questions that teens have regarding sexuality in lieu of promoting one value system and one set of behaviors and the messaging consistently targets those that identify with the dominant culture (e.g., heterosexual, cisgender, white, Christian, without disabilities, etc.). In addition, the curriculum uses fear-based information that focuses on the imminent threats of STDs and pregnancy, while ignoring the preventive and empowering components of birth control and safe sex practices, including consent and healthy relationship building. Continue reading

Know Your Rights: Advocating for Your Sexual and Reproductive Health

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

It’s important that all young people have the information and resources they need to take care of their sexual and reproductive health. However, depending on the state you live in, you might encounter barriers in the form of laws and policies that affect your ability as a young person to access your sexual and reproductive rights. Through our work of providing sex education in various Arizona communities, we know many people aren’t fully clear on what their rights are when it comes to sexual and reproductive health — so consider this a quick crash course!


A critical step in protecting your sexual health is to understand your rights.


In terms of information about sexuality, there is no state law requiring sex education in schools. It is up to each school district to decide whether they provide sex education, and what type of curriculum they want to use if they do provide it. We know there are many districts across Arizona that have chosen not to offer sex education to their students or to provide limited information about sexuality (e.g., abstinence-only sex ed).

The lack of consistency around sex education is problematic because research shows that most youth and their families want their schools to offer comprehensive sex ed  — a holistic curriculum that covers topics like consent, healthy relationships, STDs, birth control, abstinence, etc. Furthermore, when youth receive comprehensive sex ed, they are more likely to have healthy relationships and make choices that will reduce their likelihood of unintended pregnancies and STDs.

When it comes to accessing resources and services that help young people protect their health, there are a few laws in Arizona that are important to know about: Continue reading

STD Awareness: Fighting STDs with Education

Here in Arizona, Tucson Unified School District has been taking steps toward adopting a comprehensive, inclusive, age-appropriate, and medically accurate sex education program, but it’s been repeatedly delayed by a vocal minority. In September, a vote was put on hold after the superintendent recommended changing the proposed curriculum to focus on abstinence as the preferred method for avoiding STDs and unintended pregnancies.


You can make your voice heard. Learn how!


Additionally, many opponents of TUSD’s proposed curriculum believe its inclusiveness of LGBTQ kids is tantamount to “indoctrination,” that this type of education “sexualizes” children, and that discussions of gender identity will confuse students. LGBTQ kids have traditionally been ignored or demeaned in sex education programs, and their health matters too. Presenting medically accurate and age-appropriate information does not indoctrinate or sexualize children — it simply helps them make healthy decisions, no matter who they are. And these days, students need to be empowered with as much knowledge as possible to make decisions that protect their health.

Confronting the STD Epidemic

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its annual report on sexually transmitted diseases. It did not contain good news. For the fifth straight year, STD rates are climbing.

Continue reading

Everybody Deserves Good Sex Ed

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

Is sex education part of your school day? If you are getting information in your classroom about birth control, consent, healthy relationships, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), then you are among a small number of students in Arizona who get this essential health information.

In the state of Arizona, sex education is not currently required — which means it is up to your school district to decide if they want you to have sex education in the classroom. Unfortunately, most school districts have chosen not to provide sex ed to their students.


Arizona doesn’t require sex education in the classroom.


Beyond that, there are a couple of other laws that have affected how sex ed is taught even if your school district decides to provide sex education in the classroom:

  • We are an “opt-in” state — meaning that a parent or guardian must sign a permission slip for you to participate in a sex education class at school.
  • We had what are referred to as “No Promo Homo” laws on the books until April of this year — meaning that teachers could not represent being gay in a positive light, and they could not discuss methods of safe sex for “gay sex.”
  • Comprehensive sex education is not required — meaning that if a district chooses to provide “abstinence-only” sex education (programs that only promote refraining from sexual activity as a method of safe sex and do not review topics like birth control, condoms, etc.) they are allowed to do so.

Continue reading

Falling Short: Sexual Health and LGBTQ+ Youth

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

We know most young people in Arizona are not getting sex education in their schools — or if they are, it is often abstinence-only, not fact-based, and not inclusive of all students’ identities. Comprehensive sex education programs do a better job of approaching sexuality from a more holistic perspective covering a range of topics such as STDs, relationships, birth control methods, reproductive anatomy, and abstinence, at an age-appropriate level and utilizing fact-based information. Additionally, comprehensive programs are often more inclusive of students’ identities — specifically various gender identities and sexual orientations.


Schools should be responsible for educating all students about keeping themselves healthy.


However, even with comprehensive sex ed, we often fall short of inclusivity when addressing topics of pregnancy prevention and choices, healthy relationships, and sexual health.

As educators and providers of sexuality information to young people, when we talk about pregnancy we often slip into language that assumes (heterosexual and cisgender) identities, which leaves many folks out of the conversation. We all have a gender identity, a sexual orientation, and sexual behaviors that we engage in — sometimes those pieces line up in a way that is “predictable,” but oftentimes, they don’t.

For example, in working with a student who is a cisgender girl, how often are we going to automatically assume she is attracted to boys, and that she will then be having vaginal/penile sex and therefore be at risk for unintended pregnancy? The answer is often. Continue reading

The Price of Inaction on LGTBQ Homelessness

Infographic on the polar vortex. Image: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

When the polar vortex hit the U.S. last month, sending temperatures down to record lows that hadn’t been seen in a generation, I was in my own vortex of thoughts and reactions. I felt a guilty pleasure at the warm weather we were enjoying here in Arizona. I groaned when President Trump, instead of expressing concern for the millions who would face below-freezing temperatures, seized the opportunity to tweet his doubts about “Global Waming (sic),” even though five seconds on Google could easily explain how extreme weather, both hot and cold, fits within the projections of climate change science.


A comprehensive look at homelessness examines laws and public policies that put many LGBTQ people on the streets.


I also resented the online trolls I’d encountered months before, when a caravan of asylum seekers was approaching our border, who argued that we should take care of our own homeless people before we let in any more immigrants. It was a cynical framing, that we could only care for one or the other — and where were their concerns for the homeless now, when people on the streets throughout the Midwest and parts of the Northeast were at risk of dying from exposure? With wind chill reaching 75 below in some places, the cold hit levels that could cause frostbite within minutes, in addition to hypothermia and difficulty breathing.

A lot of those trolls, I remembered, had mentioned homeless veterans in particular, to the exclusion of other homeless people. It added another layer of cynicism. If they cast their compassion too broadly, they might have to reconcile it with notions that blame the poor for their own poverty, as if shortcomings in work ethic or financial planning are the only culprits, and inherited wealth, the vagaries of the economy, and other factors play no role in where the chips fall for each of us.

There are other uncomfortable facts people push aside if they avoid taking a broader, more comprehensive look at homelessness. One glaring example is the collective responsibility for laws and public policies that put many LGBTQ people on the streets. Continue reading

The Racist Roots of the War on Sex Ed

JBS-supported billboard accusing Martin Luther King Jr. of communist ties. Image: Bob Fitch photography archive, Stanford University Libraries

The 1960s were a decade of dramatic social and political changes, many of them catalyzed by the shock of assassinations or the dawn of culture-changing technology like the birth control pill.

It would seem, then, that by the end of the decade it would have taken an especially grave development to prompt warnings of a “subversive monstrosity,” a “mushrooming program” that was forced upon an unwitting public through an insidious campaign of “falsehoods, deceptions, pressures, and pretenses.”

The John Birch Society published those words 50 years ago this month in their January 1969 newsletter. What atrocity spurred JBS founder Robert Welch Jr. to write this clarion call? No trigger warning is needed for this one. He was alerting his readers to the “filthy Communist plot” known as sex education.


It wasn’t just premarital and extramarital sex that stirred anxieties. So, too, did interracial sex.


Welch’s alarmist language was common currency in an organization that was known for its anti-Semitism and its espousal of conspiracy theories. They were traits that kept the Birchers’ numbers modest throughout the 1960s and ’70s — an estimated 20,000 to 100,000 members — and led to the group’s decline in later decades. The JBS, a far-right group that advocated for limited government, got its name from a Baptist missionary and military pilot who was killed by Chinese communists — an early martyr of the Cold War.

However fringe they may have been, Welch’s words signaled the beginning of intensive backlash against sex ed among a broader base of conservatives. Within months, that backlash put organizations like the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Medical Association on the defensive. As the debate raged, the NEA sought allies nationwide in churches, civic groups, and the media to save sex ed. By the following year, the NEA was reporting that sex ed programs had been “canceled, postponed, or curtailed” in 13 states and were under scrutiny in 20 state legislatures. Continue reading