The New Sex Ed

Classroom oversight


Lawmakers are looking to revamp American sex education, but this time around the focus isn't on abstinence, birth control, or any of the usual suspects. The Teach Safe Relationships Act of 2015, sponsored by Sen. Tim Kaine (D–Va.), would introduce "safe relationship behavior"—including affirmative consent and sexual-assault prevention—into sex-ed curricula.

Kaine's bill was inspired by conversations with University of Virginia students following the publication of Rolling Stone's now-discredited article about rape on their campus. Originally introduced (and stalled) in February 2015, it has since been rolled into the Every Child Achieves Act—an overhaul of the Bush-era No Child Left Behind law—which passed the Senate with strong bipartisan support in July.

The bill calls for education that "teaches students to recognize and prevent coercion, violence, or abuse, including physical and emotional relationship abuse," and "includes education regarding relationship skills, emotional health, accountability, and well-being in relationships, and consent." Consent is defined in the bill as "affirmative, unambiguous, and voluntary agreement" to engage in sexual activity.

Under the legislation, school districts would not be required to teach "the promotion of safe and healthy relationships" but sex-ed programs that don't include it would be excluded from receiving certain federal funds.

The House of Representatives passed its own No Child Left Behind update that does not include a safe-relationships provision; leaders in the two chambers are now working to reconcile the bills. Meanwhile, House Democrats are pushing their own version of the Teach Safe Relationships Act.