Bill requiring sex-ed classes to teach abstinence until marriage clears first committee; critics want comprehensive curriculum

A bill requiring sex education classes in Kentucky to include abstinence until marriage passed out of a Senate committee, despite the pleas of four women who urged the legislators to create a more comprehensive bill.

Atherton High School senior Sophia Letson-Ettin told the Education Committee Jan. 11 that she had no objections to abstinence and monogamy being part of the curriculum, but said it should also be required to include discussions about sexual abuse, consent, contraception and healthy relationships, Deborah Yetter reports for the Courier Journal.

"I hope you will join us in support of a comprehensive sex education program," said Letson-Ettin, 18.

Sen. Steve Meredith
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Stephen Meredith, a Leitchfield Republican, says that sex education classes in Kentucky would be required to teach: "Abstinence from sexual activity outside of marriage is the expected standard for all school-age children."

Meredith argued that his bill does not say schools can't teach a comprehensive sex-ed program, only that it must teach this component. The bill passed on a 7-2 vote, with seven men on the committee voting for it.

The only woman at the hearing, Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, voted no. She said after the meeting that she had been assured that abstinence was already being taught in these classes.

Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, voted no, and said a better bill would be one that offers a comprehensive set of sex-ed guidelines for the state. Sen. Gerald Neal, D-Louisville, passed, saying the panel needed more information about the current requirements and what is already being taught.

State law currently has no requirements for sex education, and curriculum on the topic is determined by each school-based decision-making council. A representative from the state Department of Education told the committee that it is working on guidelines for such classes.

Sen. Danny Carroll, a Paducah Republican who voted for the bill, said teaching abstinence and monogamy until marriage is important, "arguing that societies that don't set standards are doomed to fail," Yetter reports.

Critics of the bill said it doesn't take into account the realities of modern society.

Sara Choate, a Louisville sex educator who works with students, pointed out that most high-school students have had sexual relations by their senior year, and many have been sexually abused, Yetter reports: "Lecturing them to abstain from sex does not provide the help or information they need, she said."

Rev. Lauren Jones Mayfield, a pastor at Highlands Baptist Church in Louisville, added that the bill doesn't account for people with different faiths and sexual orientations or those who have different views about sex outside of marriage. "This assumes sex is between a married man and woman in a Christian home," she said.

Several foes of the bill noted that efforts to promote abstinence and monogamy often end up shaming or blaming women for engaging in sex, without the same consequences for their male partners.

Men on the committee said the bill was not intended to shame anyone. Mayfield said this concern is likely something the men on the panel don't understand.

"As four women sitting here saying shame is very much a part of this, you as men are so confident saying that's not the intent," she said, drawing applause from the audience. "I feel like our realities are different from yours because that hasn't been your experience."

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