Battle Over Sex Education

Wow! If even the Wall Street Journal has noticed, there must be a groundswell of objections to abstinence-only programs. Federal funding for abstinence programs has skyrocketed in the past few years — from $82 million in 2001 to $176 million this year — so many cash-strapped schools have turned to the growing number of abstinence-based nonprofits that offer to teach sex ed classes at little or no cost. But some parents are beginning to wake up and realize that their children are getting inaccurate “information” from people who want to demonize sex.

Though parents and health professionals generally embrace the idea of encouraging teens to abstain from sex, some are starting to question whether kids are getting the adequate and accurate information that they will need to make responsible decisions as they grow older. Educators, parents and politicians are starting to lobby for sex education that goes beyond abstinence teachings. Bills that support this approach, known as comprehensive sex education, are under review in the legislatures of several states, including Illinois and Massachusetts. One bill in New York state, dubbed the Healthy Teens Act, calls for funding for programs that emphasize contraception as well as abstinence….

…Schools and other groups that accept the federal funding have to promote abstinence and play down the effectiveness of contraception. In January, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services effectively tightened its restrictions on what abstinence courses can teach. In a request for grant applications, new and detailed guidelines said that an acceptable curriculum should include teaching about “the potential psychological side effects (e.g., depression and suicide) associated with adolescent sexual activity” and stress points such as the following: “Non-marital sex in teen years may reduce the probability of a stable, happy marriage as an adult” and “Teen sexual activity is associated with decreased school completion, decreased educational attainment and decreased income potential.”

These statements “misuse” scientific data, says John Santelli, a professor of pediatrics and of population and family health at Columbia University, as well as a former official at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “There may be some truth to the associations they draw, but their conclusions are confused,” he says.

And why am I not surprised that groups in Kansas, Missouri, and South Dakota are pushing for bills that would further limit access to accurate information about sex?

Other groups that support the abstinence approach are urging states to further limit sex ed. Earlier this month, Kansas’s board of education recommended to local school districts that teachers secure written permission from parents before students attend sex-ed classes. Some state legislatures are considering bills that would circumscribe the teaching of sex ed: A bill in South Dakota seeks to prevent any instruction in the use of contraceptives in sex-ed classes. A bill under consideration in Missouri would prohibit groups that provide abortions from teaching sex ed in the schools, effectively banning organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

I don’t want my girls to grow up thinking that sex is something nasty that only “bad people” do. How on earth will they ever have healthy adult relationships if that’s all they hear now? I do want them to understand that sex is special, that it is not a game, and that it can have life-changing results. I want them to have goals and dreams that will encourage them to postpone sex until they are old enough to handle the physical and emotional aspects.

But I also want them to have good information about pregnancy and disease prevention. No matter when they start having sex, they’ll need to know. And I’d really like for all their friends to have that same information.

3 Responses to “Battle Over Sex Education”

  1. I’m with you. My daughter’s only 4, but they grow up so fast.

    You can build the highest walls, and lock ‘em up with the tightest security, and Vchip all the bad TV, and patrol the Internet usage — but there ain’t no keeping the world out.

    No one can resist that biological need forever.

  2. Del says:

    Kathy, I’m conflicted about all this. My tent is definitely pitched in the sex ed camp, but…a few years ago when my son was in 5th or 6th grade, he came home kind of disturbed by a movie they’d shown during PE. (No wonder our kids are so obese–PE is always being replaced by something “special” you have to sit still for) Anyway, it was part of the No Bad Touching curriculum or some such, and as my kid described it–and admittedly he tends to hyperbole–had a scene of a little girl cowering in her bed while her father dangled a necklace or something and said, in an evil voice, “You know you’re my little princess, don’t you?” and she said, “No, Daddy, please no, not again!” or something along those lines. The movie ended happily–the little girl told her friend, and the brave friend told the helpful school counselor, and Dad presumably got ten to twenty. It really pissed me off that they would screen this without any kind of notification to the parents. The presumption seemed to be that we’re all potential child molesters, so they have to get to the kids in a surprise attack, otherwise Daddy would just see to it that little Brittani stayed home on movie day, lest she get any ideas.

    A few months later I read in the paper that special posters designed to frame a mirror were going to be hung in all the middle schools’ bathrooms. The ones for the boys were designed to make it look like the boy’s reflected image was a mug shot of a sex offender. Everyone is a potential sex offender! and you can’t start teaching that message early enough! (What was hilarious was that the Junior League was funding these posters, but they were only being placed in the public schools–guess none of the 6th graders at UMS or St. Paul’s are going to grow up to be sex offenders)

    I guess what I’m trying to say here is that I can sort of see the conservative’s viewpoint. I mean, nobody is for child molestation, but there seems to be a sort of left-wing hysteria contained in some of these materials. And I can see how parents feel that they’ve lost control of what goes on in the classroom, too. I wrote a letter after the little princess movie incident and copied the entire school board, the superintendent, and the school principal. No one did me the courtesy of replying except the PE teacher, who said, “Well, you know, we have to show those films. They’re part of our curriculum.” It’s as if the schools see themselves as the professional experts, “saving” the kids from parents who are ignorant at best, criminal at worst.

    Of course I don’t want my kids given inaccurate information about abstinence. I guess I sort of think it would be great if it wasn’t the school’s business to give kids ANY information about sex outside of the biology curriculum. Or self-esteem counseling, or Character Education, or that teacher who told my kid the chips in his lunch were junk food and he should eat a healthy lunch. I wish the schools would just teach school stuff. Then maybe if our kids were well-educated and knew how to do research, they could find out the truth about abstinence and birth control, even if their parents weren’t willing to teach them.

    All right, flame away.

  3. Kathy says:

    Del, no way will I flame you. My experience has been different here; every time there has been any kind of sex ed “experience” at the schools, we’ve received advance notice and had the opportunity to review the materials and opt out if we choose. I figured it was the same across Alabama, but obviously that’s not the case.

    My girls have no problem asking us questions, but I have friends whose kids thought they would die of humiliation when their parents actually tried to have “the talk” with them. I think parents absolutely should be the primary source of information, but it doesn’t hurt to get backup from the teachers, some of whom my kids are convinced know more than I do.

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