Healthy Youth Act Promises Better Sex Education in Arizona Schools

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“I think what they were trying to do is scare me, and it worked for a while,” Ava Cano, a junior at Arizona State University said. “And then I got older and my hormones kicked in and I just put all of that aside like ‘whatever, I’ll take it into my own hands’.”

Cano’s experience with the sex education she received from an Arizona high school is not rare. She is one of the many students from Arizona who feels what she had in high school and primary school was sparse. Cano is one of the on-campus advocates for sexual wellness for her microbiology class that focuses on sexually transmitted diseases, particularly AIDS and HIV.

“[Sex education] should for sure be comprehensive,” Avonlea, another junior enrolled in the class said. “It should explain how to prevent STD’s and STI’s and it should include the assumption that you’re going to have sex.”

While Arizona State University provides sufficient knowledge about sexual health and hosts a variety of clubs surrounding the topic, lower-level schools in Arizona have been teaching abstinence-only throughout all generations.

As a primarily red state, Arizona is one of the 37 states that requires the promotion of abstinence in adolescent sex education. Arizona’s sex education targets youth ages 12 thru 18 and is often ran through the schools’ physical education classes.

AZ Dem. Representative Juan Mendez fears the future of the youth growing up in a community without an emphasis on Comprehensive Sex Education.

“I’m seeing the environment our students are having to grow up in… I don’t know what it’d be like to grow up in those pressures,” Mendez said. “There are some school districts providing sex education and they’re doing it pretty well especially in Tempe. Tempe has taken it upon themselves to make sure they have age appropriate [Comprehensive Sex Education], but there actually is no law that requires sex education- only thing is that schools should stress abstinence only.”

Mendez along with other Democratic state representatives have introduced a bill that would implement Comprehensive Sex Education in Arizona, known nationwide as the “Healthy Youth Act”. This bill failed to pass in 2016.

The goal of the Healthy Youth Act bill is to normalize sex education in public schools and center it around being safe in terms of consent and domestic violence.    

Opposingly, the Republicans of Arizona are pushing to maintain the abstinence-only sex education in Arizona. The Center for Arizona Policy, CAP, tackles a variety of issues including religious freedoms, pro-life and sex education in public schools.

CAP’s website cites the current ruling in place: “All materials presented in class must emphasize self-control, responsibility, and promote honor and respect for monogamous heterosexual marriage.”

At the same time, both sides believe it is the decision of the parent or guardian of whether or not their child is permitted to undergo the sex education classes. Public schools currently have an “opt-in” system, where parents have the choice to sign a waiver allowing their child to attend the classes.

Mendez made it clear that, while he agrees it should be the decision of the parent, an “opt-out” system would be more ideal. This way would make it so that parents would have to sign a waiver in order to withdraw their children from the sexual education classes.

At the same time, Mendez is working on a bill that will deliver information specific to the LGBTQ community. His hopes are to implement an all-inclusive, yet age-appropriate program that will be required of all students. Peer Youth is a group he finds himself working with often times, which is comprised of youth who volunteer to teach “anatomically-correct sex education”.

Mendez’s bill has faced a series of challenges brought on by his opposition, however he claims that the spirit of it is still alive and he will keep working towards the ideal education that will keep the Arizona youth safe.

The CDC grouped Arizona with having one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. Whether or not it is correlated with the sex education is unknown, but Mendez claims that lowering the teen pregnancy rate is one of the goals he has with the bill.

“I don’t think it’s necessarily a silver bullet but it’s definitely going to add to a drop in teen pregnancies,” Mendez said. “We’ve been experiencing a drop around the country, but this is one thing I’m hoping to achieve: for a healthier environment for our youth to grow up in.”

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