By Mary Walsh, SIECUS Program Research Intern
The Wisconsin state senate approved a bill requiring abstinence promotion until marriage as the standard for sex education in public schools. If signed into law, the bill (SB 237) will reverse the provisions of the state’s Healthy Youth Act, which has required sex education classes to include medically-accurate information about contraceptives.1 As of late November the state assembly was considering its version of the bill (AB 337) following a public hearing.
The language of AB337 requires that, in districts that choose to teach sexuality topics beyond basic HIV information, public schools must “present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior for unmarried pupils [and] provide instruction in parental responsibility and the socioeconomic benefits of marriage.”2 Ironically, the bill also requires that such instruction not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, although Wisconsin does not permit marriage for same-sex couples. The inclusiveness provision was an amendment added by Democrats.
The debate has been shaped by party-line loyalties, with Republicans supporting the bill and Democrats fighting to preserve the more comprehensive Healthy Youth Act. Abstinence-only supporters are determined to eliminate the possibility of contraceptive education in public schools: "We are trying to back away from the bill passed last year that we feel mandated sex ed that was too nonjudgmental, too explicit and at too young an age," said Republican state senator Glenn Grothman of West Bend. 3
Supporters of the Healthy Youth Act continue to advocate for the defeat of the abstinence-only proposal, citing its inadequacy at addressing the health needs of students who are already sexually active. "What we're about to do is take a huge step back…to the Flintstone era" warned Democratic state senator Jon Erpenbach of Middleton. 4
1 Mary Spicuzza, “Senate Approves Sex Ed Bill Promoting Abstinence,”Wisconsin State Journal, 3 November 2011, accessed 21 November 2011,
2 “2011 Assembly Bill 337,” Wisconsin Legislative Documents, accessed 28 November 2011, <https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2011/related/proposals/ab337>.
3 Mary Spicuzza, “Wisconsin Senate Sex Education Bill Urges Abstinence,” Greenbaypressgazette.com,3 November 2011, accessed 28 November 2011, <http://www.greenbaypressgazette.com/article/20111103/GPG0101/111030572/Wisconsin-Senate-sex-education-bill-urges-abstinence>.