When Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani was 13, her mother died before she could ask her about the changes her body would soon be going through. She was introduced to sex education during a required course in high school. To discourage premarital sex, the instructor offered a student a stick of gum. Then she chewed it, and asked whether the student still wanted it.

The politics around sex education are heating up in several states.

In 2020, legislators in Washington faced a backlash after approving a bill, without Republican support, that required schools to teach sex education to students at every grade level. A petition forced the issue onto the ballot, where it was approved by voters. In Utah, a bill originally designed to ensure that sex education curriculum included information about sexual consent was revised several times before failing in the House early this year.

In both 2019 and 2020, the Mississippi House of Representatives tried and failed to make sex education more comprehensive in the state’s public schools. A 2019 bill would have required all local school boards to implement education that is medically accurate and age-appropriate, while a 2020 bill would have required the state department of education to update a curriculum list every five years with evidence-based, medically accurate and age-appropriate materials.

At the same time, experts worry some states and districts aren’t paying enough attention to sex education, which could contribute to existing disparities in access. Teen pregnancy rates are down — the CDC says evidence suggests more teens are abstaining from sex or using birth control, although the rates of teen pregnancy vary widely by racial and ethnic group — and the pandemic has sidelined the topic as districts scramble to reopen safely and make up for learning losses.

“School districts who are well-funded and can prioritize sex ed may choose to do it,” said Jennifer Driver, senior director of reproductive rights at State Innovation Exchange, a group that collaborates with legislators on public policy. “There’s a disparity around the access young people of color, LGBTQ and rural young people have with how their school systems are funded.”

Read the full article about the politics of sex ed by Laura Antunez at The Hechinger Report.