by Doctor Science
There's been an interesting conversation about sex education going on in the comments to the previous post, which I invite you-all to roll over into this one, to leave the abortion discussion over there.
I'm starting off with something I wrote a few years ago. I've tacked in one cite where I could find it; if there's anything else in here that strikes you-all as needing supporting evidence, please point it out -- most of it seems incredibly self-evident to me.
I think "abstinence until marriage, faithfulness afterward", far from being "the only 100% safe approach", is a proven formula for disaster.
As far as I can tell, "abstinence" in this sense includes never having any orgasm-related contact with another human being before marriage. That is, it encourages ignorance, clumsiness, and lack of knowledge of self and others. For women in particular, this means that they are much more likely to find marital sex unsatisfying, as neither half of the sketch has enough hands-on knowledge of female sexual response to get her where she wants to go. Unsatisfying marital sex is a Bad Thing, not least because it leads to more divorces, a Really Bad Thing.
Abstinence-until-marriage also naturally leads to earlier marriages, as young people get married so they can legitimately have sex. Early marriages lead to more divorces, which, again, a Really Bad Thing.
Abstinence-until-marriage also encourages the mindset in which certain behaviors are labeled "sex" by adults, and so teenagers indulge in other behaviors because they "don't count", but without taking appropriate precautions either medically or emotionally.
For instance, oral sex is a *really* effective contraceptive, but there are still disease risks -- which is why teenagers could stand to learn about flavored condoms -- and it has emotional/relationship risks if it doesn't go both ways, if it just becomes a power trip. Exploitative sex is also a Really Bad Thing.
One of the worst things about "abstinence until marriage, faithfulness afterward" as an educational program is that it is so patently hypocritical. Kids aren't stupid -- they look around at the behavior of the adults they know and the ones depicted in movies, TV, and ads, and they will infallibly conclude that AUMFA is not standard, normal adult behavior. "Do as I say, not as I do" is a Bad Thing, because it leads kids to assume adults are always lying, even when we say "don't mix downers and alcohol" or "don't drive 70 on that twisting road". And those are Really, Really Bad Things.
AUMFA makes adults feel good, but it is a disservice to young people on multiple levels, and I'm against it.
Some comments re sex ed from the earlier post that I think are particularly good jumping-off points:
Hartmut (speaking of Germany):
Moreover, we don't seem to apply this "my kids must be forbidden from learning X!" approach in any other area besides sex-ed, so I'm curious: why the difference? It seems like there's a belief that teaching children sex-ed before they're "ready" damages them somehow...how? Is this the tree of the knowledge of good and evil?
There is a highly organized movement that tries to forbid to even talk about a lot of things they do not like at school (evolution is just the tip of the iceberg).
An important part of the homeschooling ideology* is to keep the children 'safe' from knowledge that the parents consider harmful to their souls, minds and bodies (usually in that order). Financial problems (of parents and/or schools) are a distant second.
Over here there is a nearly 100% overlap of those that claim that sex-ed should be the sole responsibility of parents with those that will under no circumstances teach their own kids about sex. Until rather recently the theory was in pious (Roman Catholic) circles that the priest should explain the biological facts to couples going to marry in the preparatory meeting (there are even f-ing manuals for that**).
The Bavarian Ministry of Education got its windows broken once a week for some time by a catholic organisation (not officially endorsed by the church) that demanded to cease all sex education in all schools for everyone. For them an 'individual opt-out' (not legal either) was not enough. Public Sex-ed had to be denied in general.
Today it is more a problem for traditional Muslims but the state takes a hard line on that. One could say over here it is actually a crime to keep certain information from children. That does not mean that there is no dispute about appropriate age but that's another cup of fermented leaves.
*I exempt here those parents that do homeschooling because there is no acceptable school available. I know of some liberals doing it because the public schools in their area have been taken over by religious and political fundamentalists that even steep so low as to incite other 'conservative' children to beat up the offspring of liberals.
**couldn't resist the pun
more from Hartmut:
When I grew up (that is 3 decades ago) sex-ed stretched from elementary school to the end of highschool* (in the latter as part of biology). Iirc it started with the general idea of pregnancy long before it moved toward anatomy. The actual sex act came more or less last. In later years more and more details were added like venereal diseases, contraception, deviant** sexuality. AIDS was a late add-on because at the time it was still relatively new in our parts.
I think this is a very reasonable approach but as we have seen not long ago this very approach by Obama became the basis for a RW smear campaign of 'Obama wants to teach our toddlers to have intercourse'.
Btw, I did not witness a single case of teen pregnancy at the schools I attended and have heard of only one case that happened there before my time (and that girl was in her last year at school, i.e. about 17 years old).
*I'll ignore the differences between the German and Anglosaxon/American school system here
**meant in the neutral sense as deviating from the 'norm' without attaching a judgement of merit.
It seems we have two issues mingling here: who gets to decide what kids learn in school, and at what age they should learn those things. Or maybe the question is simply who gets to decide at what age kids should be allowed to learn certain things, assuming that we agree that they should be learning those things at some point.
The very idea of public schools puts the direct decisions about what kids learn in schools and when in the hands of, broadly speaking, "the government." Of course, it is a democratic government, and we have some collective input into the decisions it makes. I don't think anyone is suggesting that no one should ever disagree with any decision the local school board or the state or federal government might make on such matters, sex ed or otherwise, or that, if they do disagree, that they should remain forever silent about it.
So how do we arrive at appropriate ages for various subjects to be taught? I don't think it's by asking all the parents what they think and choosing the highest age suggested among all suggested. I don't think it's by teaching each kid whatever each kid's parents think their kid should learn at whatever age. I think there has to be a good faith effort to make an objective determination that a sufficient number of people can live with.
Were I to begin an attempt to arrive at the appropriate age for teaching a given subject, I would start with the age at which I would expect the child to be able to grasp the material intellectually. There's a minimum. After that, depending on the nature of the subject, I'd go with emotional readiness. Beyond that, I don't know. That might be it.
As to fifth graders learning about, say, condoms, I guess it would depend on the level of detail. I don't know what sort of laboratory-based material would have to be presented. I'm not sure what that would ential - maybe anatomically correct mannequins? That might be a bit much. Has anyone heard of such a thing? Are the boys being sent into the bathroom to put condoms on, or what?
I mean, if it's just a matter of being told generally what condoms are and how they work, I don't see the big deal, particularly if there's already agreement that the biology of sex is appropriate subject matter for fifth graders. So long as you can discuss penises, semen, sperm and vaginas (and micro-organisms that cause STDs), what's the big deal about saying you put a condom on your penis to block the semen containing the sperm from entering the vagina to prevent preganancy (and block exchanges of micro-organisms to prevent STDs)?
As having friends who teach at the high school level, and friends who teach at the elementary school level - 5th graders are having sex. And those are just the ones that make the news.
They are sneaking to the auditorium to engage in sexual activities up to and including PIV intercourse.
This is the reality. Your little 11 year old boy or girl could possibly have a friend trying to encourage him/her to engage in something.
Either the state through the schools can teach them, parents can teach them, friends can teach them, or they can figure it out on their own. Those are the choices. The latter two are bad ones, IMO, for all that I was self-taught (my parents never really had a discussion with me, but didn't look askew at books I got from the library when I was curious). Which leaves us the first two - and well, anecdotally at least, it seems a lot of parents are failing the responsibility of teaching sex ed appropriately for the realities on the ground.
Versus the realities in their head, or for what they want their precious little angels to actually be. You can't make policy as if the normative world is the descriptive world.
Well you can. It just means the policy is FUBARed.
I too was in 5th grade half a century ago, in Catholic school no less. One day without warning (I don't think the parents got any either) they kicked the boys out, but unlike in your experience, they did talk to the boys as well as the girls, just in a different classroom. They sent home a pamphlet -- I remember it vividly to this day -- "To the Parents of Fifth Graders."
I don’t think it was remotely what I would now call sex education. It told us girls that we would be having periods soon and that was about it. You certainly didn’t talk about sex in fifth grade in Catholic school in 1960 or 1961.
Bottom line, my sex education -- from parents, or school, or the world -- was for all practical purposes non-existent during my childhood years (to age 18), even setting aside the fact that my own flavor of sexuality was never so much as mentioned in the world I grew up in. A more reticent family than mine I don’t think you could find. My mother, one day when I was about 10 and with discomfort dripping everywhere, asked me if I had heard of periods from other girls. No, I hadn’t. She gave me a book to read. It did mention sexual intercourse, half-explicitly and half obliquely and in passing, and honest to any deity you would like to name, I did not believe it literally for one nanosecond. (Age 10.)
Later, sex was the initial and explicit trigger for my rebellion from the guilt-ridden puritanical world I grew up in. (Hey, I went to college from 1968-1972. What can I say.)
I was determined to do better by my kids in relation to sex education, and I tried, but I would much rather have had more help. (My kids were homeschooled. I may get to that later.)
An early opportunity came when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV-positive. We were rabid basketball fans; even my kids at ages 4 and 5 heard this news. My son sort of fearfully asked if he could get that sickness. My answer led to our first conversation about sex, and to one of the most hilarious and precious conversations we ever had. (Which will remain a private memory.)
After that I bought Usborne's How Your Body Works and we looked at it a lot for a couple of years. The surprising and interesting thing to me was that the kids weren't the slightest bit interested in the pages about sex, what they were obsessed with was babies and pregnancy. I don't think the explicit mention of sex scarred them for life (to say the least), it just rolled off their backs until later, when they were "ready" for it.
This is anecdotal, and, especially as the parent of a family that homeschooled, I would like to say something about public policy in relation to sex education among other things. But this is too long already. Maybe later.