Last week, Time Magazine published an article called How to Bring An End to the War Over Sex Ed. The short answer? Actually teach sex ed! Among other lovely points, Time points out that:
We now have a pretty good sense of which sex-education approaches work. Substantial research–including a 2007 Bush Administration report–has concluded that comprehensive programs are most effective at changing teen sexual behaviors. They are also largely uncontroversial outside Washington. Vast majorities of parents favor teaching comprehensive sex education.
Fabulous! The article goes on to chronicle a sex education program that has produced real results in a rural community in South Carolina – hardly a liberal backwater like San Fransisco or Portland.
The South Carolina program has one teacher, working with 7th, 8th, and 9th graders on sex education – including both a preference towards abstinence for her young students, large quantities of information on condoms and STDs, and many other topics that are critical to a good comprehensive sex education program like how to say no to sexual activity and some guidelines on how to evaluate the qualities of a relationship. The school is hoping to add another year of sexuality education for the 11th graders.
We know these programs work – as the Time article says, even the Bush administration research concluded that they work. We know that parents prefer these programs. Only our elected officials appear unswayed and conflicted.
Middle school is the right time to start a full, comprehensive sex ed program. A “booster shot” late in high school can round out such a program. Research supports this approach, my professional experience supports this approach, most parents support this approach.
But for whatever reason, it can be hard for parents and government officials alike to bite the bullet and say: “Yes, sex ed, right now, for my middle school student(s).” I hear parents say over and over and over again: “My middle school student doesn’t think about those things yet…” and “My middle school student is different than most…” And I tend to give parents the benefit of the doubt, assuming they know their middle school student well. Until I meet their children, and get to know their children, and I have not met a middle school student yet who I thought “Oh, this person is not yet thinking about sex in anyway and does not need sex education for a few years yet.” It just hasn’t happened.
Kids have a vested interest in making sure their parents think well of them. In our society that over-emphasizes sexuality, and denies young people’s sexual feelings, young people often feel that they cannot be open about their sexual interests while maintaining their parents’ respect. Yes, this includes young people who by-and-large have good, open relationships with their parents.
So what to do in a country that still by-and-large ignores sex education or focuses on abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education? If you’re local in Austin, TX, I teach private sex education classes for middle school and high school students. You can gather your church group, a school group, or even just a group of your children’s friends, and I’ll meet with them and teach them a comprehensive sexuality education program. If you’re not local, you can bring me to your town for a crash course, or I can help you find someone local. (If you teach sex education classes and live elsewhere, drop me an e-mail so I can add you to my list!)
It is your responsibility as a parent to make sure your kids get all the information and support they need to make healthy sexual choices through out their lives – and comprehensive sexuality education is what will help them do that.