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Nicole McNichols is quoted in this Teen Vogue article about Washington’s Prop 90 Sex Education Mandate

How Teens Helped Secure Washington's Prop 90 Sex Education Mandate

It was the first time sex ed was on a ballot.


One of the last things that Lilienne Shore Kilgore-Brown did during her senior year of high school before the pandemic was travel to Olympia, the capital of Washington, to advocate for state-wide comprehensive sex education

“There are a lot of kids who aren't getting the information they need,” she said. “They're not getting that education about healthy relationships, or gender and sexuality, which just means that you have a group of people who simply because they had less education are less likely to be aware of their own bodily rights and autonomy.”  

Shore Kilgore-Brown, now a first-year student at Columbia University, was part of a group of teens who visited local schools in her community in eastern Washington to provide peer-led sex education. In March, the Washington State legislature passed the legislation that Kilgore-Brown and her peers had advocated for.

 The bill requires comprehensive sex education from kindergarten through 12th grade. Up until grade 3, students will participate in social emotional learning, which encourages skills like managing feelings and getting along with others, setting the groundwork for more relationship and sex-based learning in the future. There is no sexuality-based learning in those early grades. Opponents, who argued that the bill strips school boards of local autonomy and would teach children inappropriate content, quickly moved to overturn the legislation by getting enough signatures to put the issue on the November ballot. Last week, Washington voters supported the bill, with nearly 60% in favor of mandating comprehensive sex education in the state’s schools. This was the first time that a sex education mandate has appeared as a referendum on a statewide ballot.

Eva S. Goldfarb, a public health professor at Montclair State University in New Jersey, told Teen Vogue that polls and surveys have long shown that parents are supportive of comprehensive sex education. “What makes this so important is that now, it's been put on a ballot and we have even more definitive proof because people weren't just responding in general, but about their own children's education,” she said. “And resoundingly they said yes.”

In addition to Washington, several other states including California, Oregon, Colorado and Maryland have comprehensive K-12 sex education, according to Elizabeth Nash, acting associate director for state issues at the Guttmacher Institute. Twenty-eight states and Washington, D.C. have implemented some form of sex and HIV education. Still, there’s no federal mandate requiring sex education, meaning it’s up to states to decide if or how they will teach it. That’s resulted in a patchwork landscape, under which students receive vastly different sex education depending on where they live.

In some states, sex education that stresses abstinence is required—an attitude that seems to have contributed to pushback against the Washington bill. Many worried that students would be taught material they weren’t ready for, Nicole K. McNichols, a psychology professor at the University of Washington in Seattle, said. That’s a misconception. Reproduction won’t even be discussed until at least the fourth grade, she explained. (Parents have the right to opt their children out of sex education classes under the new mandate.)

McNichols said research shows that countries that do have comprehensive sex education curriculum, such as the Netherlands, have lower rates of unplanned pregnancies, lower rates of sexually transmitted infections, and that people, especially women, report having more positive first-time sexual experiences. The Washington law also requires LGBTQ inclusive education, something which many states that do have mandatory sex education don’t discuss, McNicols said.

Read the entire article here.