Sex Education in Oklahoma

If you grew up in the Oklahoma public school system, chances are your experience with sex education will sound a lot like these people:

  • PAIGE WARRIOR (Santa Fe High School): We didn’t really talk about it. All they said was “The only way to protect yourself from HIV is to not have sex.”
  • KALI CRUSISH (Mustang High School): They brought a pastor in to teach us about AIDS, but it was a scare tactic where they said “If you sleep with one person then you sleep with everyone that they’ve slept with.”
  • ASHTON LIPPEL (Lexington High School): I had zero sex education in high school. I grew up in a town where the church was right across from the high school and the parents threw a fit about sex ed. The school sent around a sheet to give permission for their kids to have sex ed, and so few parents signed that the class was canceled.

If these experiences sound lacking and inconsistent, that’s because there is no state mandated sex education program in Oklahoma, with the state leaving it up to individual school districts to decide how to approach the subject, if at all.

The state does require schools to teach students on HIV/AIDS prevention, however, but primarily through abstinence-only methods. On top of that, there have been several bills introduced to the state legislature in the last few years to try and advance sex education.

First there is Senate Bill 89, passed in 2021, which requires schools to provide health and physical education. Then, there is Senate Bill 926, passed in 2020, that requires any curriculum related to human sexuality to include instruction on consent. Despite these advances, the lack of a state mandated sex education curriculum has lead to organizations like Thrive OKC, a nonprofit committed to reducing the teen birth rate in Oklahoma 25% by 2025, to fill in the gaps.

Preston Shatwell, the organization’s communications director, said that despite the lack of a state mandated curriculum, Thrive and its partners can actually use that to their advantage in some cases. ” The way the policy is set up where the only mandate is to teach HIV/ AIDS education is pretty limiting, but at the same time by only mandating that one section it provides an opportunity for innovation in some school districts,” said Shatwell.

While Thrive and its partners are making strides in connecting schools and people with the resources needed to teach an expansive sex education curriculum, most of their progress has been limited to the metro areas of Oklahoma, with more work needing to be done to expand their reach to the more rural areas of the state.

For more information on ThriveOKC and its work in the state, click here.

For a more comprehensive look at the steps taken to advance sex education in Oklahoma, SEISUS, a nonprofit committed to advancing sex education across the U.S., keeps track of all the progress in each state, including Oklahoma’s.

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