Sex Education – Let’s Get Real

When I first went to university (a long time ago), I started in the nursing school. Nurses are amazing people and I totally respect what it takes to be a good nurse, but it wasn’t for me. So I switched my major to education, and became a science teacher. At that time, the medical students at my university were concerned about the numbers of very young girls who were coming into the hospital to deliver babies, so they decided to offer sex education at the local middle schools. Because I was in the education school by that time, and had contacts with the school system, they asked me to participate in the project.

We worked for a long time to develop an age-appropriate program which would cover the basics of anatomy, physiology, emotions, and consequences. We wanted the children to know what was happening to them as they entered puberty and how those changes were related to sexual behavior. It never occurred to us to tell the children that abstinence was the only proper way to deal with sex at their age, mainly because we knew that many of them were already having sex. What we wanted was to help protect them against sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. Several local middle school principals agreed to have the medical students visit classrooms giving the talks. The program went on for several years after I graduated and then ceased because of lack of interest by the medical students.

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The first teaching job that I was offered in 1970 was based in part on my ability to teach sex education. The school was an all-girls’ school, but even in that setting, having someone teach a very explicit course in human sexuality was unusual. The rest of my teaching positions in secondary school – three more schools, one girls’ schools and two boys’ schools – included teaching sex education. Over the years, I have noticed that the knowledge that children in high school have about sex has declined, but if I read my students correctly, their sexual activity has not.

The problem is that people are embarrassed to talk about sex. They don’t even talk about it with their spouses, much less their children and they can’t imagine discussing sexuality in a classroom. If you have seen the post mortem bodies in the TV shows such as CSI and NCIS, there is a white light in the genital area so that you don’t see that portion of the body on the table.  I tell my students that school tends to treat sexuality like that – we talk about emotions, but we don’t talk about the part of the body that is involved with sex. It is as if a government class only talked about constitutions in general and never discussed our own Constitution, how it was developed and its effect on our lives.

More importantly, because our students do not discuss sexuality and sexual behavior in class, they get the impression that their beliefs are correct. Have you seen what is available to them on the Internet? I am sure that you have, and keeping that from your children is not the answer. Having the material presented in an academic setting will help your child understand that we all have sexual feelings, that sexual feelings are normal, and that acting on those sexual feelings is best if you are prepared.

In the same way that the D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) programs do not work to stop children from trying drugs, sexual abstinence programs aren’t working. The reason that these approaches don’t work is that they don’t give kids the skills they’ll need to deal with the situation if they find themselves suddenly in the middle of it. Teens and pre-teens do not have the ability to predict what’s about to happen. Think about it. How many times have you said to your child – “why did you do that?” or “what did you think would happen?” Your child has no idea – remember, the prefrontal lobe, the part of the brain that allows us to make reasoned decisions and to control our impulses, has not yet fully developed in adolescents. What your child needs is skills in understanding what’s happening, and how to extricate himself from a situation he knows is going downhill.

Your child needs a comprehensive course in both sex education and drug education – no lies, no evasions, no whitewashing. That requires a lot of information which most people, actually most teachers, do not have. Remember, I started years ago studying human sexuality and was, for a time, a certified sex educator and I promise you, I get questions every year from my students for which I do not have an answer. What they get from me is “I don’t know the answer to that, but let us work together to find out and then we can share with the class.”

As the parent of a boy, the most important thing you can teach your son is that it is very hard to know when a girl is honestly willing and ready to engage in sex. Many girls have been led to believe that the only way to have a relationship with a young man is to offer sex – they want romance and are willing to give sex to get it. Point out that if the couple is not comfortable discussing which method of birth control they want to use, they are not ready to have sex. Your son also needs to know that many young males may not be totally honest about their sexual activity (or lack thereof) because they have been led to believe that having sex makes you a man. Not true, but that is a conversation you need to have with your son.

Good luck – if you are honest with your son, the chances are better that he will be honest with you.

Here’s a YouTube video about the subject of sex education in America. It’s from HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” with John Oliver – since it’s HBO, it’s somewhat graphic, but not overly so and the information is correct. I highly recommend it for any parent looking for talking points, or a conversation starter, for “the talk” with their kids.