opting out of sex-ed

An article entitled Should Kids Need Parental Consent to Get Sex Education in School? (1) recently appeared in my facebook feed. Apparently the need for parental consent is “to protect the children”

Republican state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook sponsored bills S.B. 376 and H.B. 2620 after a constituent came to her in January appalled at a poster hanging in his daughter’s middle school. Titled “How Do People Express Their Sexual Feelings?,” the poster highlighted sexual activities, such as “grinding,” “oral sex,” “kissing,” and “sexual fantasy,” that could put them at risk for contracting an STD.

“We need to protect children from hurtful material in schools,” Pilcher-Cook said last week. “We need to protect the rights of parents to shield and protect their children from harmful material.”

I have mixed feelings about such posters, would I want one on my wall at home? No. But are they “harmful material” to have in a middle school? No. Keeping middle school students in the dark about about their bodies, emotions, relationships, consent, and how they might catch STDs is far more harmful than some poorly-designed poster.

As a child who was “opted out” of sex ed, in an abstinence-only red-state, for religious reasons (thanks Christian Science) I feel very strongly that children should not need to get parental consent, nor should they be allowed to “opt out” regardless of their religion (or lack there of). I went to public school, but I can relate all-too-well with many of the stories shared on Homeschoolers Anonymous and their Let’s Talk About Sex (Ed) Week (2).

My first experiences with “sex ed” was in the fourth and fifth grade when we were shown the “our changing bodies” video where they talked about menstruation in the dullest possible way, and sent us home with little bags packed to the brim with samples to insure we’d be hooked on their products (pads and deodorant) for years to come. My mother pre-screened the content in the School Nurse’s office to make sure it was “appropriate.”

My parents were unhelpful. I got some pretty terrible advice, including “don’t turn your husband down if he wants sex — if he’s not getting enough he’ll cheat, you want to keep him happy” and “you can douche with coke to kill sperm” (do NOT try that at home).

My understanding of basic human anatomy fared poorly as well. From an early age, everything was labeled as “privates” and aside from rinsing “down there” with water from time to time, little else was said. When I first got my period, my mother handed me a package of maxi pads and told me to be sure and “rinse the blood stains with cold water so they won’t set.” Tampons were never really talked about, my mother referred to them as “plugs” and mentioned they were “useful for swimming.” I didn’t try them until I was in college and my period coincided with my PE swim class. It was not a pleasant experience.

The over all experience was not empowering, it was embarrassing. My body was transforming into an icky, sweaty, bloody mess, complete with breasts, hormonal swings, and bras which never seemed to fit right.

My sex “education” came from older friends (who were often nearly as sheltered as I was), and the internet. As a bonus, we had the conservative Christian, misogynistic, red-state mindset that reinforced the virgin/whore dichotomy, when you add Christian Science and all the unreality to the mix, it makes for some pretty warped perspectives. It can also lead to some awful relationship decisions. Hindsight, is 20/20, in the moment, it seems perfectly reasonable to victim-blame, slut-shame, and “avoid the appearance of evil” even if it isn’t really evil. The notion that women had sexual desires was laughable. Masturbation was not discussed. People who used sex toys were to be pitied. Sex before marriage? Never. Rape and sexual assault didn’t happen to “good girls.” It was a slut-shaming paradise. (3)

We talked about sex in my Christian Science Sunday School class, where a few of us were brave enough to broach the otherwise taboo topic. The general consensus was as follows:

  • No sex before marriage, sex primarily for procreation (although recreational sex is okay, as long as it is for the “right” reasons – aka keeping the husband happy so he won’t cheat/leave)
  • No using hormonal birth control, but condoms are probably OK
  • Abortion is probably a bad idea, you should pray about it — this was the most grey zone, apparently prayer can end a pregnancy, but it is really up to God. One of the young men at the table asked innocently “why would anyone need one?”

I feel strongly that everyone needs a solid sex-education and they need to get it in a safe, non-judgmental environment. They also need facts, not urban-legends, and scare-tactics. They need to learn it is okay to turn someone down, and that “not saying no” is not the same as an enthusiastic yes! I’m not sure how that is supposed to happen, but I know the few days of co-ed “sex-ed” didn’t work so well when we covered the mandatory STDs in my high school health class.

I agree, we need to protect our children, but I disagree with Republican state Sen. Mary Pilcher-Cook about what that protection entails. Protecting children includes teaching them basic facts about their bodies, demonstrating and modeling healthy relationships, educating them about proper methods of birth control and STI prevention.

The children in question are middle schoolers, ages 11-14, they are old enough to father children or get pregnant and some of them engage in such activities. Protect them by giving them the information they need to prevent abusive and emotionally manipulative relationships, unplanned/unwanted pregnancies, and STDs.

Parents should not be able to opt their children out of sex-ed any more than they should be allowed to opt their children out of learning mathematics. Abstaining from teaching children about the human body and sex does not work. It is a VERY, VERY BAD IDEA (4)

Thankfully, in-spite of parental and governmental bungling, we seem to be living in the golden age of teen sexual responsibility: teen pregnancy is down, and teens are more likely to use condoms than their elders (5).

Further reading & Helpful Sex Ed Resources

End Notes

  1. http://www.takepart.com/article/2014/02/24/sex-education-in-schools-kansas-bill?cmpid=tp-fb
  2. http://homeschoolersanonymous.wordpress.com/category/lets-talk-abut-sex-ed-week/
  3. For some context most of us listened to Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity – I will not be linking to them
  4. Along that same line of reasoning, abstinence-only sex-ed does not work either – http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/04/03/how-abstinence-only-sex-ed-driving-std-rates
  5. http://rhrealitycheck.org/article/2014/03/25/golden-age-teen-sexual-responsibilty/