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State in Focus: The Status of Sexuality Education in Illinois

A recent study conducted across the state of Illinois found that the quality of comprehensive sexuality education is not equal in all classrooms.1  The assessment included four topics for sexuality education: abstinence-until-marriage, HIV/ AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception, and found that only 65 percent of classrooms covered all four components.  Overall, 93 percent of Illinois schools offer some form of sex education.2 

Specifically, the topics of HIV/ AIDS and abstinence were most frequently included in Illinois classrooms.  Topics including contraception and decision-making skills were less frequently discussed.  Abortion, sexual orientation, and emergency contraception were the topics included the least in Illinois sex education.3 

The study’s author, Dr. Stacy Tessler Lindau commented, “Given that a large number of young people are sexually active, we worry that such restrictive approaches leave students unprepared to prevent pregnancy and/ or sexually transmitted diseases.”4 

The same study was conducted in 2005 with similar results.5  The status of sexuality education in Illinois is shaped by current law and policy and the massive amount of abstinence-only-until-marriage funding poured into the state. 

Illinois Law & Policy

Illinois law sets certain standards for sexuality education in the state.  In grades six through 12 students must receive instruction on the prevention, transmission, and spread of AIDS.  Any school teaching sexuality education must emphasize abstinence.  The state law says that “abstinence is the expected norm in that abstinence from sexual intercourse is the only protection that is 100% effective against unwanted teenage pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and AIDS when transmitted sexually.”6

In addition, state law in Illinois says that all courses that discuss sexual intercourse are to include the hazards of sexual intercourse, the latest medical information on the failure and success rates of condoms, and explanations of when it is unlawful for males to have sexual relations with females. According to the Illinois School Code, “honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage” must be taught.7

Abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in Illinois

The Department of Human Services and community-based organizations in Illinois receive large influxes of abstinence-only-until-marriage funding through three separate federal funding streams:  Title V, Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE), and the Adolescent Family Life Act (AFLA).8  No such funding streams exist for comprehensive sexuality education. 

Abstinence-only programs in Illinois receive the sixth highest amount of abstinence-only-until-marriage funding in the country.  In Fiscal Year 2006, the Department of Human Services and several community-based organizations in Illinois received over 7.6 million dollars from these funding sources.9  Also, in 2008 the state provided the Project Reality abstinence-only-until-marriage program with 1 million dollars a year in additional state revenues.10 

Despite the large amount of money funneled into the state for abstinence-only-until-marriage programs, Dr. Tessler Lindau supports a broader approach, as recommended in The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States’ (SIECUS) Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten-12th Grade, Third Edition.11  This publication presents a national model for comprehensive sexuality education with developmental messages for: early childhood, preadolescence, early adolescence, and adolescence.  These guidelines include some of the topics covered in the Illinois study: HIV/ AIDS, other STDs and contraception.  However, the guidelines recommend that young people learn about a number of other topics such as sexual orientation, puberty, self-esteem and communication skills. 

Lindau says, “Our children learn many of the skills they need to be healthy citizens and to take responsibility for their own health in school.  That should include information about sexual aspects of health.”12

References

  1. Stacy Tessler Lindau, “What Schools Teach our Patients about sex: Content, quality, and influences on sex education,” Obstetrics & Gynecology 111.2 (February 2008): 256-266.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. “2/3 of Illinois Public Schools Provide Comprehensive Sex Education,” Newswise Medical News, 28 January 2008, accessed 11 February 2008 <http://www.newswise.com/articles/view/537233/>. 
  6. “Illinois State Profile,” SIECUS, (June 2006), accessed 8 February 2008, < http://www.siecus.org/policy/states/2006/mandates/IL.html>.
  7. See Illinois codes: 105 ILCS 110/2, 105 ILCS 110/3, 105 ILCS 5/27-9.1, 105 ILCS 5/27-9.2, 105 ILCS 27-11, Public Act 92-0023, and Illinois School Code.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Pete Sherman, “District 187 to being paying for abstinence-only sex ed materials,” The State Journal Register, 8 January 2008, accessed 11 February 2008 < http://www.sj-r.com/News/stories/23180.asp>.
  11. Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, Guidelines for  Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten-12th Grade, Third Edition. (New York: SIECUS, 2004). 
  12. Stacy Tessler Lindau, “What Schools Teach our Patients about sex.”

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