A friend of mine recently reached out to me and asked for my opinion based on an article that had caught her eye. The subject was sex education in high school (and whether or not a certain text book selected for the class was appropriate for 9th graders). It was a topic of controversy in California. Parents were outraged. Civil liberty people were called. Text books were deemed by many of the parents to be “pornographic.” And in the end, the text book was pulled. The parents won.
As I read the article and contemplated her question about my opinions I found myself thinking about how often misconceptions surrounding sex come up. How often friends ask me for clarification and/or advice despite the fact I’m not a therapist. I’m just pretty knowledgeable and enjoy researching the subject (in the many various formats available for “research”.)
So here are my thoughts as they pertain directly to the California scenario. The parents were well within their rights. Although I firmly believe it’s very important that sexual education continue, and not just from a “sex is evil/having sex can get you diseases that can range from embarrassing to lethal/save yourself till marriage” standpoint, there are certain subjects that should probably be left for private discussions rather than a public forum. For example, the text book chosen went into details such as sexual positions, bondage, and helpful hints for masturbation. Now, to be fair, there’s no way to know if these subjects would’ve been discussed in class, but they also came with illustrations a la The Joy of Sex. In my opinion, that’s probably pushing it a bit, and I can see why the parents were up in arms.
In an ideal world kids would come to their parents or schools would have a social worker or therapist on staff that they could come to…to sit down and talk about these things if they’re curious. Heck, let’s be real….do you really think there aren’t any precocious freshmen girls who haven’t read 50 Shades? You’d be deluding yourself. But on the flip side, the entire class doesn’t need to be in the middle of this discussion because everyone’s level of knowledge and experience or desire to go there is not and will not be the same!
Why focus on the advanced courses without addressing the basics? What should be discussed in this sex ed class (because I truly do believe we should continue the education…heck, they haven’t had sex ed since their private parts and their functions, including periods, were explained in 4th-5th grade)? How about a positive body image. How about instead of focusing on tips and pointers of masturbation, we explain that it’s a natural function and that exploring ones self is normal. How about explaining the impacts of cruel cutting words surrounding a person’s body and/or sexuality. Detail how such simple things as words can create eating disorders, fear, and even suicide….and that there is power in social media, so they should be judicious in how they choose to use it. Or that positive words can build a person up and help them take on the world? How about tolerance for people who may not share our sexual interests? There’s no need for the details there, though it certainly may open some people’s minds up for questions and curiosities. Heck, they may even go to people they know who are into whatever it is that caught their attention and learn something…including tolerance!
I guess what I’m trying to say is that sexual education definitely needs to continue, but some of it should be explored and experienced through independent learning. Helping guide people to thirst for more learning is the first step. Taking away the taboos and the fear is the second. (And it doesn’t mean you have to push aside the very real concerns about safety, pregnancy, and diseases.) Third is teaching that with sex comes responsibility, and that sex is never a decision that should be taken lightly without understanding the potential for consequences. We can do ALL of that without threats and fear!
You know why else sex education is important? Because you don’t want your child to be the 23 year old girl who asked a very close friend of mine if she had to worry about becoming pregnant because she swallowed when she gave her boyfriend head. Or my own friend who, at 19 years old, was confronted with a boyfriend who didn’t like condoms and wanted everything to be “natural” including the pills they bought together at a health food store. Needless to say, she was pregnant with twins by the time she was 20. These situations, while extreme, are examples of what can happen when sex discussions are pushed away or fear is put at the forefront. Where old wives tales prevail. Or worse, ignorance.
Heck, I’m 40 years old and I’m still continuing my sexual education. How about you? BTW, if you’ve got your own stories of fear/ignorance, I’d love for you to share… And if you’ve got thoughts on sex ed, I’d love to hear those, too!