Oklahoma does not have required sex education in schools, and across the state what is offered in most schools is far from expert considered comprehensive. But a trio of bills making their way through the state legislature may help bring Oklahoma's sex ed in some cases into the 21st century.
The first bill is SB 926, authored by Sen. Kay Floyd (D-OKC),. It would require students to learn about consent and sexual assault in health classes. That bill made it out of committee and is heading to the Senate floor.
The topic of consent has been thrust into the forefront of conversations around youth and sex after reports of widespread sexual assault on college campuses. There have also been several high-profile cases of sexual assault in Oklahoma schools including charges brought against four football players from Bixby accused of raping a younger teammate.
Sen. George Young’s bill, SB50, entails schools to require parents and students grades six through 12 to have an annual conversation about things like sex, health and positive body images, which the bill calls “communication training”.
“The training shall focus on… well-informed, factually based, medically accurate and body-positive communication with their children regarding pregnancy prevention, abstinence practices, prevention of sexually transmitted infections and diseases and safe and healthy relationships,” the bill reads.
Finally, House Bill 1018 is aimed at updating Oklahoma's HIV and AIDS curriculum. Much of what's being taught in schools surrounding HIV or AIDS hasn't changed since the late 1980s. HB1018 has been tried and failed several times at the Capitol. It quickly passed the House and is on its way to the Senate, where advocates are cautiously optimistic about its prospects of passing.
“We owe it to our kids, we owe it to our future adults and our young adults to give them the information that they need to take control of their future and to keep themselves safe,” said Laura Lang, CEO of Thrive, OKC.
Thrive is a non-profit collaborative group which promotes comprehensive sex ed in Oklahoma.
Oklahoma routinely ranks among the worst states for teen birth rates and teenage pregnancy. Although the state has made improvements in recent years, Lang said Oklahoma only improved from second worst to third worst in the last year.
The state is also a hot bed for sexually transmitted infections. In the last two years state health officials have documented a resurgence of STIs and STDs.
In 2017, the Oklahoma State Department of Health noted a double-digit percentage rise in syphilis cases. It also noted a rise in the number of cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Likewise, Oklahoma’s rate of HIV is considered to be epidemic by federal and state observers. While the number of cases stayed relatively flat in recent years, the state is one of 10 southern states given the alarming status.
All three bills being run this year have either been run previously or discussed in advocacy circles but never championed at the capitol. The measures will likely be heard in the coming days.