Abstinence, or refraining from sexual activity, is a healthy choice students and young adults can choose to make until they are ready to engage in sexual activity. However, Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage (AOUM) curriculum presents abstinence as the only option until marriage provides no further resources, and can omit vital information to students. There is no evidence to suggest that promoting AOUM is efficient as students are engaging in sexual activity long before marriage. There has been recent improvement in legislation for eradicating the AOUM curriculum within high school classrooms, such as the California Healthy Youth Act of 2016. This Act promotes an inclusive and comprehensive curriculum that benefits and provides a solid foundation of information regarding sex and health to all students, not just those who are from a marginalized community. With the California Healthy Youth Act enacted, Clovis Unified School District located in Clovis, California, fails to uphold the new standards of sex and health curricula in the majority of their classrooms leaving students ill-prepared for life after high school.
Clovis Unified School District Sex Education Curriculum: An In-depth Look on the Benefits of Providing an Inclusive and Comprehensive Form of Sex Education and the Harmful Effects of Abstinence-Only-Based Influence.
It has become apparent that the Clovis Unified School District (CUSD) of Clovis, California has failed to provide adequate comprehensive and inclusive sex education curriculum. While some changes have been made after the American Academy of Pediatrics dismissed their lawsuit against CUSD in 2015, the District’s continuation to provide an outdated textbook and pushing for an Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage influence contradicts the District’s values of diversity and inclusivity to all students no matter the ethnic background, race, sex, gender, sexual orientation, and financial status. Through survey results and anecdotal evidence regarding participants’ experience in their sex education course, the curriculum in most classrooms does not comply with the California Healthy Youth Act (CA Education Code Sections 51930-51939) of 2016. Lastly, AOUM influences in the classroom do not meet the needs of a diverse student population and can potentially cause more harm than benefits. The intention of this project is to bring awareness to the lack of inclusive and comprehensive sex education curriculum that CUSD is failing to provide students in most of their health classrooms. Moreover, it is important to consider potential outreach solutions to provide students with a proper introduction to sex and health.
Background: A Look at the History and Development of AOUM Programs
With no national requirement for sex education, and curriculum vary from state to state, and even from school to school, Abstinence-Only and AOUM based curriculum and influence is still present in high school classrooms across the United States. Abstinence-Only programs were introduced in 1982 under the Regan administration but were then morphed into 4 Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage programs with increased federal funding under the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 during the Clinton administration. These programs have since sparked the debate on what is the most beneficial way to teach sex education. AOUM based curriculum promotes “that sexual activity outside of the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects” with no actual evidence to suggest that “consensual sex between adolescents is psychologically harmful” (Santelli, 2017b). While the policy has progressed in an attempt to replace these programs by providing more medically accurate, inclusive, and comprehensive based information, AOUM and its influence are “not effective in delaying initiation of sexual intercourse or changing other sexual risk behaviors” (Santelli, 2017a). The sex education curriculum varies widely throughout the country leaving many teens short of crucial and possibly life-saving information and resources.
Between 1982 and 2019, more than two billion dollars have fueled AOUM federal programs (Sex Ed for Social Change [SIECUS], 2018). According to the National Conference of State Legislators, “Twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia require public schools teach sex education, twenty-seven of which mandate sex education and HIV education” and with twenty-two of those states must require the curriculum be “medically, factually or technically accurate” (National Congress of State Legislators, 2020). States that do not mandate sex education have the power to influence the curriculum to carry Abstinence-Only and AOUM information. These programs often teach the importance of delaying sex until students are older, reducing the number of sexual partners, and reducing the frequency of sex along with withholding critical information about the prevention of STIs and the health benefits of contraception and condoms. These programs do not express the need to include inclusive curriculum that could be especially beneficial for young members of the Lesbian, Gay, 5 Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community and other minority communities that are disproportionately affected.
With questions and concerns over the efficiency of these AOUM programs, many states since 2004 have refused federal funding for AOUM programs (with California being the only state to refuse AOUM funding since its introduction) (Santelli, 2017b). Half of the states in 2009 refused federal support for AOUM, and in 2016 United States Congress introduced Sexual Risk Avoidance Education (SRAE) which is defined as “projects to implement sexual risk avoidance education that teaches participants how to voluntarily refrain from non-marital sexual activity” (Family Youth & Services Bureau [FYSB], 2016). Schools that push for abstinence-only education, while simultaneously withholding critical and inclusive information, are generally not successful in the prevention of young people having sex. The Center for Disease Control reported that between 2011-2015 the percentage of never-married teenagers who have ever had intercourse between the ages of 15 to 19 were 42.4% of female-identifying personnel, and 44.2% of male-identifying personnel (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2017). Using national representative data from the National Survey of Family Growth, when assessing youth sexual risk-taking from ages 15-19, it is found that “Abstinence-Only programs had no significant effect in delaying the initiation of sexual activity or in reducing the risk for teen pregnancy and STD”. When compared to a lack of formal sex education or Abstinence-Only curriculum, “comprehensive sex education programs were significantly associated with reduced risk of teen pregnancy” and showed a “decreased likelihood of a teen becoming sexually active compared with no sex education”. Teens were almost 50% less likely to experience pregnancy compared to those who only received the AOUM curriculum (Kohler, Manhart, & Lafferty, 2008). With these statistics, it is clear that simply promoting the concept of not having sex is impractical.
The continuous presence of AOUM influence will “likely have serious unintended consequences by denying young people access to the information they need to protect themselves (Collins, Alagiri, Summers, & Morin, 2002). A congressional report in 2004 by Democrat Representative of California, Henry A. Waxman, found that federally funded AOUM programs misrepresent the effectiveness of forms of birth control for preventing sexually transmitted infections along with unplanned pregnancies. Furthermore, these programs blurred lines with religion and scientific fact along with promoting gender stereotypes. More than eighty percent of the curricula contained misleading and false information. Women are often perceived to be dependent upon men, and when they engage in sexual relations before marriage, women are seen an undesirable to future partners. Moreover, men are provided justification for their sexual urges and aggression (Waxman, 2004). The Waxman Report also highlights how AOUM curricula contain false and deceptive information about the risks of abortions. The curricula states, “Premature birth, a major cause of mental retardation, is increased following the abortion of the first pregnancy” (Waxman, 2004). When in reality, fertility is not altered by elective abortion. As of June 15, 2020, the Guttmacher Institute reports that eleven states and the District of Columbia provide an inclusive view of sexual orientation and six other states require more of a discriminatory view towards sexual orientation (Guttmacher Institute, 2020). AOUM programs do not meet the needs of the LGBTQ+ youth and directs the curriculum to heteronormative (denoting or relating to a world view that promotes heterosexuality as the preferred sexual orientation) standards, “which in part creates and fuels sexual prejudice leading to violence, poor health outcomes, social dislocation, and academic difficulty” (Elia & Eliason, 2010). These programs promote a “one size fits all” heteronormative narrative when “the sexual health needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning students are not the same as the needs of students involved in opposite-sex relationships” (Santelli, 2017b). Providing students an inclusive set of information can help all students, not just those who identify with the LGBTQ+, as it can create a community of tolerance and eliminate stereotypes.
Clovis Unified School District Sex Education
Overview and Demographic
Clovis Unified School District, located in the Central Valley of California, contains five highschools (Clovis High, Clovis West, Clovis East, Clovis North, and Buchanan High School) located throughout Fresno and Clovis. Each high school (grades 9th through 12th ) hosts an average student population of 2,567 and a CUSD combined total highschool population of 12,837. From the 2019-20 enrollment data provided by the California Department of Education, White students make up the largest number of the CUSD highschool student ethic population closely followed by Hispanic or Latino, then Asians. The breakdown of ethnicity can be seen in Table 1.
2019-20 Enrollment by Ethnicity
From the 2019-20 enrollment data provided by the California Department of Education, 5,078 (39%) students across all five CUSD high schools came from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background. The breakdown of socioeconomically disadvantaged students throughout the five highschools can be seen in Table 2. Students from a low socioeconomic 8 status are correlated to have “lower educational achievement, poverty, poor health” and lack of resources available to them (American Psychological Association).
2019-20 Enrollment by Socioeconomically Disadvantaged Status
CUSD high school students are required to take one semester of “Health”. The 2018 Clovis Unified School District Course Catalogue describes Health as a “general introduction course that teaches positive behaviors to ensure a lifetime of wellness. Topics discussed include reproductive health, social-emotional wellness, substance abuse, diseases and disorders, nutrition, life skills, and refusal skills''. This curriculum, however, uses an outdated textbook published in 2004 entitled Lifetime Health by David P. Friedman. The textbook is written only in a cisgender heteronormative viewpoint and excludes information about LGBTQ+ health and wellness, up to date medication on HIV and AIDS (such as PrEP and PEP), the spectrum of gender, condom demonstration, it also fails to mention the words ‘condom’ and ‘contraceptives’, and promotes an Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage agenda.
The Lifetime Health textbook describes abstinence as “waiting until marriage” or “refraining from further sexual activity until marriage”, as this will help students “avoid feeling regretful later” (Friedman, 2004, p. 461). This book informs students of the emotional and social 9 benefits from remaining abstinent such as “the freedom to pursue a variety of friendships, better reputation with parents and other trusted adults, better reputation among peers, having an increase of self-control and self-respect, and staying true to your personal values such as respect, honesty, and morality” (Friedman, 2004, p. 462). There is additional information regarding the elimination of the risk of and prevention of HIV and AIDS by practicing “abstinence until marriage” and “avoiding multiple partners”, further stating that “when a couple is ready for marriage, both partners should maintain a monogamous relationship” (Friedman, 2004, p. 506). Overall the textbook fails to provide an inclusive set of information, and pressures students to remain abstinent or face social and emotional consequences. By contrast, while abstinence is an effective measure to avoid pregnancy and other unwanted results, it is not the only option (which the textbook fails to examine). Students need an inclusive and comprehensive set of information and resources to equip them with life skills that promote safe and healthy sex.
In addition, the course and curriculum must comply with the California Healthy Youth Act of 2016 which consists of five primary points.
California Healthy Youth Act
From the California Department of Education, the California Healthy Youth Act (CA Education Code Sections 51930-51939) consists of five primary points to ensure all students grades ninth through twelfth receive comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education:
To provide pupils with the knowledge and skills necessary to protect their sexual and reproductive health from HIV and other sexually transmitted infections and from unintended pregnancy;
To provide pupils with the knowledge and skills they need to develop healthy attitudes concerning adolescent growth and development, body image, gender, sexual orientation, relationships, marriage, and family; 10
To promote an understanding of sexuality as a normal part of human development;
To ensure pupils receive integrated, comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased sexual health and HIV prevention instruction and provide educators with clear tools and guidance to accomplish that end;
To provide pupils with the knowledge and skills necessary to have healthy, positive, and safe relationships and behaviors
A convenience sample of Clovis Unified School District’s students and alumni (N = 433), 14 years and older, were recruited through popular social media applications (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat). Participants who were interested were directed to a survey regarding their sex education experience during their time at one of the five Clovis Unified School District high schools located throughout Fresno County, California. The survey took approximately ten minutes to complete and participants were made aware of the risks associated with taking this survey (discomfort answering sensitive questions regarding sex education topics and exposure); along with the benefits (self-awareness of health education exposure and understanding and benefits to future community outreach project design). The participants were informed that survey submissions will remain anonymous.
Participants were asked a variety of questions in regard to their sex education course and experience. Students and alumni were only required to answer five questions regarding ethnic background, age range, sexual orientation, gender, and what high school they currently attend or graduated from. Questions relating to sexual orientation and gender were given the option of “prefer not to answer” out of respect for the participants. The majority of the survey 11 consisted of close-ended questions, except for the last question which asked participants if they had any additional information that they would like to share about their experience in sex education under the CUSD curriculum. Closed-ended questions consisted of:
If participants qualified for free or reduced lunch;
Asking participants what high school grade level did they take their sex education course;
Asking participants what information they were and were not introduced in their course;
Asking participants if they received information about the benefits of the birth control pill other than reducing the chance of pregnancy;
Defining Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage curriculum and asking participants if it sounded like the curriculum they received;
Asking participants if they were introduced to inclusive information and curriculum;
Asking participants what type of inclusive information they would want to be informed of in their sex education course;
Asking participants if they were informed of PrEP or PEP;
Asking the participant if the teacher ever provided the classroom with an educational condom demonstration;
Asking participants if they believe sex and health education should be a continuation of age-appropriate courses from kindergarten through 12th grade;
Asking participants to rate their curriculum and comfort in their classroom;
Asking participants if their teacher or highschool ever invited a guest speaker from a local resources center
Clovis Unified School District hosts approximately 12,837 students throughout all of the five main high schools. The survey elicited 433 total responses which is about 3.3% of the population. Clovis West students and alumni made up 43.4% (n=188) of the responses.
Percent and Value of Total Responses
Participants ages 19-20 made up 50.6% (n=219) of total responses followed by ages 14-18, which made up 44.8% (n=194). Ages 24-40+ made a combined total of 4.6% (n=20) of responses (table 3). Women (70.0%) identifying personnel made up most of the survey, followed by men (25.2%) identifying personnel, non-binary or genderqueer personnel (3.0%), transgender men (0.9%), not sure (0.5%), and prefer not to answer (0.5%). It is important to note that Transgender women were an option, but none of the participants identified as that gender.
Students and alumni were asked if they qualified for free or reduced lunch to determine their socioeconomic status. Of the 140 responses that said “yes” for qualifying for free or reduced lunch, Students and Alumni of Color made up 67.4% (n=95) and Non-Hispanic White or 13 Euroamerican students made up 31.9% (n=45). 38.1% (n=165) of participants identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community or were questioning.
Several factors could have contributed to the low response rate, including that the survey was only accessible to those with internet access and popular social media platforms, resulting in barriers for students and alumni who did not have the resources readily available to participate in this survey. Nevertheless, most participants overwhelmingly expressed support for inclusive and comprehensive topics, including LGBTQ+ health and wellness (86%), up-to-date HIV medication and information (90%), the spectrum of gender (81%), and resources that students can reach out to outside of the classroom (91%).
Under the California Healthy Youth Act Education Code, Article 2, § 51933 states that “instruction and materials shall affirmatively recognize that people have different sexual orientations and, when discussing or providing examples of relationships and couples, shall be inclusive of same-sex relationships”. The Education Code states that materials should be “accessible to pupils with disabilities” (AB 329, Article 2, § 51933) and “teach pupils about gender, gender expression, gender identity” (AB 329, Article 2, § 51933). However, according to the survey, 98.4% (n=190) of respondents ages 14 through 18 were not exposed to inclusive topics within sex-education, such as LGBTQ+ health, sexuality resources for the disabled, the spectrum of gender, et cetera. It is important to note that ages 14-18 is the class of 2020 to 2024 and were enrolled in high school when the California Healthy Youth Act of 2016 was enacted.
Participants provided anecdotal evidence on their experience in their sex education courses further solidifying the belief that Clovis Unified School District is unable to provide students with a comprehensive and inclusive sex education curriculum, which does not fully comply with the California Healthy Youth Act (CA Education Code Sections 51930-51939) of 2016. Many students and alumni expressed that the curriculum did not illustrate an inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ students and presented heterosexuality as the only option. Participants reported being met with teachers who pushed their own religious ideologies and biases, and educators that made students feel uncomfortable in the classroom. Some students and alumni were provided with the option of taking Health over the summer, but it only consisted of a three-week course filling out packets that related to the Lifetime Health textbook. Many students and alumni who took the summer course thought their Health class did not deserve to be labeled as a sex education course.
Participants ages 14-18 (98.9%) did not receive an educational condom demonstration, and 88.0% of those same participants were unaware of up-to-date HIV information and medication, such as PrEP and PEP. With only 51.3% of total participants’ parents or trusted adults, discussing sex and reproductive health with them, more than half of the other participants did not have such privilege. 38.8% of total participants rated their sex education under the Clovis Unified School district to be ‘average’, followed by ‘poor’ (37.8%), Graph 2.
Rating Sex Education Couse at CUSD, Total Participants and Ages 14-18
The majority of participants (35%) expressed that they personally did not feel comfortable and their classroom environment was judgemental (Graph 3).
Rating Participants Level of Comfort in Classrooms, Total Participants and Ages 14-18
Significance and Moving Forward
Sex education, when done right, can be extremely beneficial to students by equipping them with the knowledge to make healthy and responsible choices. It is clear to see the lack of inclusivity, the presence of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage influence, and lack of consistency to uphold the California Healthy Youth Act. This can be seen in the majority of the health classrooms across all five of the Clovis Unified School District high schools. Learning and understanding the vast topics of sex and health is a lifelong process that cannot simply be put into a semester course. Nonetheless, it is vital to provide students a solid foundation of knowledge as omitting crucial information can leave students ill-prepared for life after high school.
Potential solutions include having a website dedicated to providing inclusive, comprehensive, and medically accurate information and resources for teens and young adults in the Central Valley. Through this website, students and young adults will be able to access a database of organizations and resources located throughout the Central Valley that best fit their needs. Information about sex and health will mainly be conveyed through infographics highlighting and summarizing key information. All infographics can have a quick response (QR) code on the bottom corner to allow students to access further information and resources on a topic. An independent website could allow for creative freedom, while not being constrained by the Districts’ agenda. Users of the site would be encouraged to download the infographics and resources for their own personal use. Collaborative efforts between high school administration will be made to encourage health educators to pin-up the infographics (that comply with the California Healthy Youth Act) in their classroom and/or around the campus. This will allow students to easily visualize information along with being able to quickly access resources and more in-depth information with the QR code (see appendix for an additional infographic sample). Furthermore, raw survey responses and data will be brought to each of the five high schools administration’s attention. This is to bring awareness to the harm they have caused with their curriculum that only provides cisgender heteronormative sex education, and also promotes Abstinence-Only influences within many classrooms.
The majority of the Clovis Unified School District's students and alumni that completed the survey, have expressed their dissatisfaction in their sex education curriculum, especially from the students that are a part of the LGBTQ+ community. It is clear that a large number of health classrooms fail to provide an inclusive set of curriculum, and still use an outdated textbook from 2004. Carrying out solutions is anticipated to be an extensive process, as political and societal barriers could very well be obstacles. However, delaying the urgency for inclusive and comprehensive sex education will only hurt students in the long run; as providing students an inclusive set of information can help all students, not just those who identify with the LGBTQ+. Inclusivity can create a community of tolerance and eliminate stereotypes. Creating a solid foundation and eliminating the inaccessibility of inclusive and comprehensive sex education will allow students to develop self-esteem, encourage critical thinking skills, communication, and responsible decision making.
Please take this quiz to access the voting link:
Collins, C., Alagiri, P., Summers, T., & Morin, S. F., Abstinence Only vs. Comprehensive Sex
Education: What are the Arguments. What is the Evidence. (2002). [PDF]
Comprehensive Sexual Health & HIV/AIDS Instruction. (2020). California Department of
Education and Socioeconomic Status. (2017). American Psychological Association.
Elia, J. P., & Eliason, M. J., Dangerous omissions: Abstinence-only-until-marriage school-
based sexuality education and the betrayal of LGBTQ youth. (2010). American Journal of
Sexuality Education, 5(1), 17-35.
Enrollment by Ethnicity - Buchanan High. (2019.). California Department of Education.
Enrollment by Subgroup for Charter and Non-Charter Schools - Buchanan High. (2019).
California Department of Education.
Funding Table: History of Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Federal Programs. (2018). Sex Ed
for Social Change. Retrieved July 19, 2020, from https://siecus.org/resources/funding-
Key Statistics from the National Survey of Family Growth - T Listing. (2019). Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved August 6, 2020 from
Kohler, P. K., Manhart, L. E., & Lafferty, W. E., Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex
education and the initiation of sexual activity and teen pregnancy. (2008). The Journal of
adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 42(4),
Santelli, John S., et al. Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage: An Updated Review of U.S. Policies
and Programs and Their Impact. (2017). Journal of Adolescent Health, vol. 61, no. 3, pp.
Santelli , John S., et al. Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Policies and Programs: An Updated
Position Paper of the Society for Adolescent Health and Medicine. (2017). Journal of
Adolescent Health, vol. 61, no. 3, pp. 400–403., doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.06.001.
Sex and HIV Education. (2020). Guttmacher Institute. https://www.guttmacher.org/state-
Sexual Risk Avoidance Education Program (General Departmental-Funded). (2016). Family
Youth & Services Bureau. Retrieved July 18, 2020, from
State Policies on Sex Education in Schools. (2020). National Congress of State Legislators.
Retrieved July 18, 2020, from https://www.ncsl.org/research/health/state-policies-on-
Waxman, H. The content of federally funded Abstinence-Only education programs. (2004).
Washington, DC: US House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform—
Minority Staff Special Investigations Division. [PDF]. http://oversight. house.