AEFP 45th Annual Conference

Toward a Meaningful Impact through Research, Policy & Practice

March 19-21, 2020

The Landscape of Sex Education Policies in Florida Schools

Brittany Closson-Pitts, Florida State University,

Political discourses surrounding sex education in U.S. public schools has continued to be a topic rife with controversy. Despite the fact that 93% of Americans have voiced their approval for sex education programs at the secondary school level, agreement on how these curriculums should be enforced remains a point of contention (Future of Sex Education Initiative, 2010). Currently, of the states which mandate the inclusion of high school sex education curriculums, 19 have dictated that their public schools stress abstinence from sexual activity, while only 14 have included discussions on contraception and safe sex practices (Guttmacher Institute, 2016). These numbers highlight the dichotomous application of sex education policy within the United States surrounding the two most commonly implemented strategies: Abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education.
Following the lead of its Republican-dominated legislature and somewhat socially conservative populace, the state of Florida has comfortably placed itself in the “abstinence-only” corner of the debate with regards to its own sex education policies (Clark, 2016). However, given the state’s ever-climbing rates of STD infection among adolescents (Bousquet & Auslen, 2016), coupled with persisting incidences of teen pregnancy (U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 2014), many opponents are questioning whether Florida’s current standard of sex education is effectively addressing the rising societal problems affecting its youth populations (Clark, 2016).
According to a 2011 report instituted by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (2014), 48% of Florida high school students identify themselves as being sexually active, while approximately 7.3% of all female residents between the ages of fifteen and nineteen are expected to become pregnant at least once during their teen years (a rate slightly above the national average of 6.8%). Additionally, Florida now ranks number one in the country regarding new incidences of HIV infection reported by young adults (Bousquet & Auslen, 2016). These data indicate that students are engaging in sexual behavior without receiving the knowledge needed to stay safe and make responsible decisions, which brings forth the following questions: Is Florida’s “abstinence only” model really addressing the societal concerns of its student population? If not, what alternative approaches could state policymakers explore to encourage adolescents’ avoidance of risk-seeking sexual behaviors?
The primary policy alternative which I suggest is a comprehensive sex education (CSE) model to replace Florida’s current abstinence-centered programs. I propose that this proposed CSE initiative should include several important features, including sex education curriculums which are medically factual and comprehensive; consider the diverse experiences of its student population; and are age-appropriate for both elementary and secondary school classrooms. This policy alternative should therefore focus on medically-sound information and student-centered conversations about important matters such as consent, relationships, contraception, sexual and reproductive rights, etc. Within this framework, I propose that age-appropriate CSE curriculums be created and taught starting at the elementary level. CSE programs should additionally be LGBTQ+ inclusive and encourage conversations about students’ diverse experiences regarding race, class, religion, culture, and sexual identity.
Three evaluative criteria were used to analyze the potential success and applicability of these policy features within a real-world, educational context. These criteria include their economic feasibility, their ability to address societal issues (such as teen pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases), as well as their potential to respond to the demands of parents, students, and educators. By introducing a comprehensive view of sex education and holding future policies to a high criterion, I believe that Florida schools will be better equipped to meet the needs of their students and encourage them to make informed, positive decisions regarding their health, well-being, and engagement with the world beyond the borders of their classroom. Therefore, the overall goal of this poster presentation is to enlighten policymakers, educators, parents, and students to the possible inefficiencies of current sex education models which focus exclusively on abstinence, and deliver possible solutions which may better encourage adolescents to make positive, healthier decisions.



The poster provides a helpful layout of extant policy. I'm curious about the funding history - you mention Florida's funding of abstinence education through 2009; is there information available that speaks to funding over the past decade? You provide some compelling evidence that there is a problem unaddressed. It may help to provide graphic representations of this as well; if the results of the Kohler, Manhart, & Lafferty (2007) study could be extrapolated to Florida, how much would that reduce teen pregnancy? Can you estimate the costs and benefits of switching from abstinence education comprehensive sex education? Thank you for sharing your work! If you have any questions about my comments, you can reach me at

I know that I shouldn't be surprised that states are still promoting abstinence-only sex education, yet I was indeed surprised. Regarding: "Students who participated in Florida’s abstinence-only programs were more likely to voice their intentions to abstain from sex, but in practice reported higher rates of sexual activity." Is it possible that this reflects a selection effect -- i.e., abstinence-only programs being directed to students who are more likely to have higher rates of sexual activity?

Brittany, excellent coverage of earlier context as noted above in other comments. What is the current context - is a good amount of money flowing into abstinence only programs? Also, what might be other potential data sources for you to tap into? Lastly, how about political landscape - has it changed within Florida or even nationally?

You make a compelling case for Florida moving beyond abstinence only. Can you suggest how CSE would need to be adapted to satisfy the concerns of Florida legislators? Are there other steps that would need to be taken to lead Florida legislators to move away from the abstinence-only policy? You might be able to answer these questions by looking at states that have changed their sex education policies. How were those changes facilitated?

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