Washington State Profile
The Department of Health and community-based organizations in Washington received $2,499,202 in federal funds for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs in Fiscal Year 2007. 1
Washington Sexuality Education Law and Policy
School districts in Washington are not required to implement comprehensive sexuality education; the decision to implement sex education or human sexuality instruction in schools is made by the local school board. When creating sex education or human sexuality instruction, Washington law states that school districts must involve parents and other community members “in the planning, development, evaluation, and revision.” The law also requires every Washington public school that offers sexual health education to assure that instruction is medically and scientifically accurate, age-appropriate, appropriate for students regardless of race, gender, disability status, or sexual orientation, and includes information about abstinence and other methods of preventing unintended pregnancy. It also states, “Abstinence may not be taught at the exclusion of other materials and instruction on contraceptives and disease prevention.”
Schools are required to teach sexually transmitted disease prevention. Schools are also required to teach HIV/AIDS-prevention education and emphasize abstinence as a prevention method. This instruction must be given at least once each school year beginning in the fifth grade and must “teach that condoms and other artificial means of birth control are not a certain means of preventing the spread of the AIDS virus and reliance on condoms puts a person at risk for exposure to the disease.” Information must be current and medically accurate. In order to verify medical accuracy, the Office on HIV/AIDS within the Washington State Department of Health must review and approve all HIV curricula and supporting materials.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Department of Health developed voluntary guidelines titled the Guidelines for Sexual Health and Disease Prevention. These guidelines promote broad, comprehensive, positive sexuality education programs that provide information about both abstinence and contraception, and are consistent with characteristics of programs that have been rigorously evaluated using quantitative research and have shown to be effective in reducing risk-taking behaviors. Washington also provides a voluntary curriculum, KNOW HIV/STD Prevention Curriculum,for use in grades five through 12.
Parents or guardians may remove their children from HIV/AIDS-prevention education if they have attended one information session about the HIV/AIDS curriculum and presentation. If a school district chooses to provide sexuality education, parents may also remove their children from the class with written notification. This is referred to as an “opt-out” policy.
See Revised Code of Washington Section 28A.230.020, 28A.230.070, 392-410-140, Guidelines for Sexual Health and Disease Prevention, and KNOW HIV/STD Prevention Curriculum.
Bill to Change Language Surrounding Abstinence-Only Funding
Senate Bill 6305, introduced in January 2008, would change the language of the current law, so that the original text stating “the department of health shall maximize federal funding by timely application for federal funds available under P.L. 104-193 and Title V” would instead read “the department of health may maximize federal funding by timely application for federal funds available under P.L. 104-193 and Title V.” The bill passed the Senate on February 18, 2008 and was sent to the House but later died.
SIECUS is not aware of any recent events regarding sexuality education in Washington.
Washington’s Youth: Statistical Information of Note
Washington did not participate in the 2007 Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey.
The Washington State Department of Health received $814,633 in federal Title V Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Funding in Fiscal Year 2007. The Title V abstinence-only-until-marriage grant requires states to provide three state-raised dollars or the equivalent in services for every four federal dollars received. The state match may be provided in part or in full by local groups. As of 2003, all state matching funds were cut; the state match is now completely provided through in-kind support from the state’s media partner.
In 2007, the Washington Department of Health used Title V funds to launch a statewide public awareness campaign about abstinence targeting young people ages 10–14 and their parents. The campaign’s goal is to reduce the number of unintended teen pregnancies through abstinence-based media messages that communicate the importance of healthy relationships, model good decision-making skills, and encourage effective parent-teen communication. The campaign includes a website (www.nosexnoproblems.com), as well as billboards, radio and television ads, and pre-movie spots.
One public service announcement shows two female students passing notes in a high school classroom. The first comments in her note, “That new guy is SO HOT!! I’m thinking about doing it with him!!!”2 Her friend responds, “NO WAY! I heard he has HERPES!!!” The first student is shocked and responds loudly, “WHAT?” A health fact regarding Washington youth follows this interaction and the announcer says, “Don’t be a statistic!”
Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE) and Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA) Grantees
There are three CBAE grantees in Washington: AWARE, Inc., Clarkston School District, and Teen-Aid. There are no AFLA grantees in Washington.
AWARE, Inc. has produced several commercials with the abstinence-only-until-marriage message. One commercial, “HPV,” features a young woman and man and states, “HPV can be deadly…but the good news is there is one thing that you can wear that has been proven effective in preventing the spread of HPV. They’re called ‘pants.’”3
AWARE, Inc. also sells “Abstinence Til Marriage (ATM)” cards on its website. This novelty item, made to look like bank card, is meant to serve as a reminder of one’s virginity pledge. Under expiration date, the cards read “Wedding Day.”4 Research has found that under certain conditions virginity pledges may help some adolescents delay sexual intercourse. When they work, pledges help this select group of adolescents delay the onset of sexual intercourse for an average of 18 months—far short of marriage. More importantly, the studies also found that those young people who took a pledge were one-third less likely to use contraception when they did become sexually active than their peers who had not pledged. These teens are therefore more vulnerable to the risks of unprotected sexual activity such as unintended pregnancy and STDs, including HIV/AIDS. Further research has confirmed that although some students who take pledges delay intercourse, ultimately they are equally as likely to contract an STD as their non-pledging peers. The study also found that STD rates were higher in communities where a significant proportion (over 20 percent) of the young people had taken virginity pledges.5
Teen-Aid, another CBAE grantee, says that it “uses multi-media and personal experiences” in its abstinence-only-until-marriage programming for parents and teens.6 Teen-Aid claims to have reached 9,000 teens and parents in eastern Washington in one year.7 Teen-Aid has produced several curricula including Me, My World, My Future and Sexuality, Commitment & Family.8 SIECUS reviewed these curricula and found that they rely on fear and shame, include inaccurate and exaggerated information about condom failure, and contain biased messages about gender, sexual orientation, family structure, and pregnancy options. For example, in one lesson in Sexuality, Commitment & Family, students write an essay titled “If Wombs Had Windows,” in which they speculate how individuals and society might behave differently if “we could see the unborn child developing in the womb.” In the condom lesson from Me, My World, My Future, teachers compare using a condom to playing Russian roulette.9
Federal and State Funding for Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs in FY 2007