Sexual Education In New Mexico
The mandate for sex education varies greatly across the United States. Only 29 states and the District of Columbia mandate sex education as part of our youth’s educational plan. When HIV/STD information is provided, 35 states require that schools “stress” abstinence when sex education or HIV/STI information is provided. Only 16 states require additional instruction on condoms or contraception. There are only 9 states that require sex education or HIV/STI instruction to include consent, and only 8 require culturally responsive sex education and HIV/STI instruction. Regarding the rights and inclusion of LGBTQ youth, only 7 states have policies that include affirming sexual orientation on LGBTQ identities or discussing sexual health for LGBTQ youth, and 9 states explicitly require instruction that discriminates against LGBTQ people. There are currently 15 states that do not require sex education or HIV/STI instruction to be age-appropriate, medically accurate, culturally responsive, or evidence-based/evidence-informed.
New Mexico is one of 29 states that require schools to teach sex education as part of their health education requirement. While this requirement aligns with advocating for youth’s rights, the requirements around sex education in New Mexico are vague or lacking altogether. Currently, there is neither a mandate for sex education curriculum to be comprehensive nor is there a standard regarding medically accurate sex education curriculum. Furthermore, it is not required to include sexual orientation or gender identity as part of the instruction. There is also no requirement to include instruction on consent in New Mexico. Finally, when HIV/STD information is provided in New Mexico, it is required that schools “stress” abstinence. New Mexico also has an “opt-out” policy, meaning parents or guardians can request to remove their child from sex education instruction.
New Mexico laws mandate that schools teach health education courses either in middle or high school (New Mexico Administrative Codes 220.127.116.11, 18.104.22.168, and 22-13-1.1.1). Additionally, all elementary, middle/junior high, and high school students must receive instruction about HIV and related issues, including ways to reduce the risks of getting HIV/AIDS and stress abstinence. Instructional outcomes should include demonstrating refusal skills, overcoming peer pressure, and using decision-making skills.
Local school districts determine what educational materials and the grade levels at which they are introduced and implemented. State law mandates that this material be age appropriate and requires schools to adopt the academic content and performance standards to measure the performance in public schools (New Mexico Administrative Code 22.214.171.124).
According to the Health Education Content Standards in New Mexico, abstinence education instruction should be provided in grades three and four, while beginning in grades 7 and 8 focuses on instructing students to understand how to replace healthy alternatives with unhealthy behaviors, such as abstinence, condom use, and other pregnancy prevention methods. Benchmarks for students in grades 9 through 12 include demonstrating the knowledge of pregnancy prevention, including various methods of contraception, strategies for maintaining healthy relationships and resolving harmful behaviors in relationships. Included in this discussion is the impact of cultural and media portrays on gender roles.
State standards mandate that each school district must create a policy allowing parents or guardians the option to request to remove their child from sex education instruction, known as an “opt-out” policy, and alternative lessons must be created for exempted students.
State Legislative Activity
As the 2021 New Mexico State Legislative session convened, two bills that sought to advance sex education failed. One of these bills sought to require the sex education curriculum to include instruction on the prevention and awareness of sexual abuse and assault, including instruction on affirmative consent (House Bill 133). The other bill sought to allocate funding to investigate accountability with statutory measures regarding sex education in public schools (Senate Bill 540). Despite both bills failing, these bills signify the call for comprehensive sex education in our state.
New Mexico is in the third year of a five-year grant focused on reducing adolescent suicide and working with 41 schools to improve school climates. One of the strategies implemented through this grant is providing educators with training and curriculum to develop inclusive sex education instruction.
While many school districts have begun implementing comprehensive sex education, not having a standardized CSE mandated throughout leaves large populations of youth across the state with a deficit of sex and sexual health knowledge. Currently, New Mexico schools are only required to provide instruction on HIV/AIDS, pregnancy prevention, cultural portrayals of gender, and healthy relationships, leaving school districts to decide what additional instruction is provided. Additionally, a lack of accountability measures makes it difficult to ensure that each school district complies with this requirement.
Mandating local control over sex education creates a disparity for students of color and LGBTQ youth, as these populations are limited to access resources needed, further stigmatizing marginalized youth. The students face increased rates of adverse health outcomes in New Mexico, including disproportionate rates of chlamydia. This disparity demonstrates the critical need for advanced, culturally responsive sex education.
A lack of standardization in the delivery of sex education across the state also leaves school districts vulnerable to contracting with community agencies that provide misinformation to students. For example, Santa Fe Public Schools rely on crisis pregnancy centers to deliver instruction to their students. However, these crisis pregnancy centers have been known to provide students with false, manipulative information about abortion care.
Ensuring our youth across the state have access to evidence-based, gender-inclusive, and medically accurate standardized sex education must be a high priority. By actively addressing misinformation or identifying information gaps, advocates are helping to destigmatize discussions of sexuality in our communities. Advocates can also contact their state representatives to voice their concerns for improving sex education requirements and increasing funding to support the implementation of comprehensive curriculum and healthcare services.