Guest post by Tina Mann
I recently attended a meeting at my local middle school to discuss the upcoming sex education classes. After reassuring the parents of the district’s policy to teach abstinence-based classes, which sounded like a positive approach to me, the teacher played several videos of teens dealing with relationship and pg-style sexual scenarios. Some parents left feeling reassured, while a few of us stayed seeking more information before giving our consent for our young 11 and 12 year old students to attend. After a few more questions, the teacher passed out a copy of the test to those of us who had remained. It was only then that I discovered my 6th grade, Lego-fanatic son and his friends would be asked about methods for “safe anal sex.”
When asked if we want our children to have comprehensive sex education in schools, a majority of parents say, “Yes!” But, do we know what we are agreeing to?
On the surface, comprehensive sex education appears to simply be abstinence-based sex education with additional information on contraceptive methods as well as HIV and STD prevention. However, recent news headlines have started to shine a small light on the decades old debate of what to teach in sex education and when to start teaching it in our schools.
Parents in Oregon were disturbed to learn that their school district had approved for students as young as ten years old a book with explicit instructions for masturbation and sexual intercourse, including illustrations. This came to light when nine year old fourth graders reported viewing the book openly in the library. Some school districts in Las Vegas have considered teaching masturbation as early as kindergarten. One Minneapolis sex educator took her middle and high school students, some as young as 11 years old, on a field trip to an adult sex novelty shop to encourage them to talk without shame or fear. The school’s Director defended the field trip.
Many but not all states already allow parents to exempt or excuse their child from material the parent considers offensive or inappropriate. However, each of these reported events happened without prior notification to the parents. Some states are working to give parents advanced notice when it comes to sex education in the schools. Unfortunately, the federal courts have not upheld parents’ rights when it comes to protecting the innocence of our children. In Fields vs Palmdale (2005), the Judge said:
“We agree, and hold that there is no fundamental right of parents to be the exclusive provider of information regarding sexual matters to their children, either independent of their right to direct the upbringing and education of their children or encompassed by it. We also hold that parents have no due process or privacy right to override the determinations of public schools as to the information to which their children will be exposed while enrolled as students.”
How did we get here?
In the 1960’s and the 1970’s, the goal of sexual education was moral purity and social hygiene: to discourage sexual activity outside of marriage, end masturbation and prostitution, and prevent STDs. During the 80’s, two paths started to develop as schools continued to develop their sex education curricula. Abstinence-only programs were taught in more conservative areas while some areas started to call for “comprehensive sex education” to include HIV prevention and contraception information. Today’s sex education has become even more liberal with a national standard that has moved away from abstinence-only programs while blaming conservative sex education programs for high teenage pregnancy rates.
In 1964, Dr. Mary Calderone, a former medical director for Planned Parenthood founded the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). This organization has aligned themselves with the National Education Agency (NEA), the United States’ largest labor union representing public school teachers and support staff at every level of education. Dr. Calderone’s SIECUS organization has led the efforts to move away from abstinence-based sex education, increase the sexualized content of the education, standardize and mandate attendance of comprehensive sex education taught in grades Kindergarten through 12th grade to include, but not limited to, the normalcy of sexual response as well as instructions for masturbation, contraception and the normalcy of abortion. In our society where the quiet traditional voices are often drowned by the loud liberal dialogue, much of this activity has occurred unhindered.
It is important to recognize that while comprehensive sex education is often cloaked as a medically-accurate, research-based approach to preventing teen pregnancies, HIV and STDs, it is failing to promote abstinence. In a quantitative, content analysis, only 4.7% of content in comprehensive sex education courses was devoted to messages encouraging teens to abstain from sexual activity; whereas, 70% of content in authentic, abstinence-based curricula was focused on abstinence and promoting healthy relationships and marriage. Clearly, the agenda of comprehensive sex education is to normalize and sexualize our young children.
What can we do?
Proponents of comprehensive sex education have aggressively appealed to educators and legislators for sweeping changes. We, as parents with a traditional voice, need to also make appeals to educators and legislators to ensure that our voices are heard. Each of us should:
- Be educated on the issues.
- Learn about our state’s laws.
- Research the curriculum that the school is using and ask to see a copy of it.
- Attend local school board meetings.
- Serve on our school’s health advisory council.
We must not be content to simply opt-out of comprehensive sex education classes, we need to know what we are saying yes to and ensure that the sexual education classes are conforming to our expectations.