Sex Ed. – Whose Job Is It?

On a cold November morning last year, I had just finished drilling my ninth grade Spanish 1 class on the verb ser, and my students were getting ready to work in pairs, writing and memorizing a dialogue. I thought the class was going pretty well. So when 13-year-old Amy raised her hand, I assumed she had a Spanish question. “Is a baby nine months old when it’s born, or do you start counting its age when it comes out of the mother?” she whispered. Oh, no! Here I thought my kids were totally focused on their studies, and all they were thinking about was sex.

Recognizing that Amy probably wasn’t going to do any Spanish while she was distracted by her pressing question, I responded to her quickly in English, then re-directed her to the task at hand; she smiled, thanked me, and resumed working on her Spanish dialogue. (Or so I hoped.)

Whose job is it to teach sex education? Parents? Teachers? Religious leaders?
Sharon Maxwell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Boston, MA, feels strongly that it is the job of parents to teach sex education: “We have to give our children a structure with which to view the world. Our overriding theme as parents should be to teach our children that becoming a full human being means having the ability to control and direct our desires, and that includes sexuality.” Maxwell believes that where parents have abdicated responsibility, schools have had to take over.

Colin Wilson, the parent of two middle-schoolers in San Jose, CA, has a slightly different perspective, “Both parents and teachers can play a part,” he says. “It’s good for kids to learn sex education from others as well as from their parents. And some children may take advice from their school more easily than from mom and dad.” He adds that schools may have taken on the role of sex educators because parents feel more comfortable having someone else raise these issues with their children.

A 2004 poll by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government found that 93 percent of Americans agreed that sex education should be taught in schools. But since there is no federal law requiring public schools to teach sex education, the picture varies across the U.S.:

•    Currently, 35 states mandate either sex education or education about HIV/AIDS and other STIs, but their laws tend to be very general. Policies specifying the content of sex education are typically set at the local level.
•    More than two out of three public school districts have a policy to teach sex education. The remaining one-third of districts leave policy decisions up to individual schools or teachers.
•    Eighty-six percent of the public school districts that have a policy to teach sex education require that abstinence be promoted. Some 35% require abstinence to be taught as the only option for unmarried people and either prohibit the discussion of contraception altogether or limit discussion to its ineffectiveness.

Not only are there enormous differences across the country, but Americans do not agree on what kind of sex education is best. David Parker, of Lexington, MA, was furious when his 5-year-old son showed him the book he had brought home from school. Who’s in a Family? portrays contemporary family structures including those headed by same-sex parents. According to the school, the book is one of several materials designed to promote diversity in the school district. But Parker saw it as part of a “homosexual agenda” that didn’t belong in the classroom, and he fought hard to remove it.

Renee Walker, of Concord, CA, also battled to get rid of her child’s sex education program, but for different reasons. Wanting the best for her son Jesse, she was eager to sign the consent form when his public middle school offered a sex education program. But then she discovered that he was not learning anything about puberty, prevention, or contraception, but only about abstinence. It turned out that the program was being taught by an anti-abortion evangelical group with questionable health credentials. Thanks to Walker, the program is no longer taught in Concord public schools.

As Amelia Thomson DeVeaux discussed in her 12/18 blog, When It Comes To Sex, American Young Adults Are Surprisingly Ignorant, right now nobody is doing a very good job. So maybe it’s time to stop pointing fingers, and assume that we are all responsible. Character education and sex education are both about exercising good judgment and being the captain of your soul. Children need to learn these skills from all the adults in their lives.

Marlon Dias @ marlon.net (http://creativecommons.org)
Judy Molland

187 comments

Mark Alan Dellavecchia

Abstinence? Does that include or exclude masturbation? Personally, I side with Former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders.

Oh, and by "Sex Education" are we just talking about reproduction and disease stuff, or is it to include the fun stuff too?

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Kat Greenseas C.
kathryn cook8 years ago

ty for this post

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Michelle H.
.8 years ago

Well Marishka. I was going to post .But you said about all that I would have .:)

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Lynda K.
Lynda K8 years ago

I remember that my older sister had to tell my other sister and I about "the birds and the bees". Unfortunately, at an age, where I was a bit too young, we laughed and laughed at her about it that much, that she didn't know what to say in the end, so as I got older I was so green behind the ears about everything which let me go through some difficult times.
I vowed that I would do things differently, and I did. I spoke to my children from an early age in a very natural way, deepening the answers as they got older - they also had a little sex ed at school, which embarrased many children, so many different races and cultures - I feel very sorry for those left in the dark - for us, it was a different day and age, very different from today

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Steve Gomer
Steve Gomer8 years ago

I disagree. I don't believe schools have any business teaching sex ed in class. I think its high time lazy parents stop pushing off their responsibilities onto the school system, and the school system stop making laws requiring the sex instruction being taught in schools.

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Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W8 years ago

It's the parents' job first of all, but school should also chip in.

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James Carpenter
Past Member 8 years ago

Both parents and teachers can play a part, but at the end of the day someone needs to before they go out for a walk with the girl or boy next door and find out in the long grass and you become a granfather and mother!

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Danielle H.

I think it should be everyone's responsibility to teach Sex Education to other people. It's always good to be knowledgeable about different subjects.

I've met countless parents who think children should only be exposed to that sacred "S" word at a specific age, preferably sometime in their teens. Unfortunately many kids become curious about it at an even younger age, catching on about the subject from other students.

I believe it's best to educate our children on sex at about the age of 11 or 12. By the time they are 13 and/or hit puberty, chances are they're already curious and asking questions. Unfortunately, they probably won't be asking their parents.

Before anybody gets too annoyed that I posted that age limit, there's been a rather alarming rate of "pre-teens" getting pregnant. Children at the age of 13, when their bodies are most likely BARELY developed enough to handle that kind of bodily stress, they're going out getting pregnant and proud of it.

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Sandy M.
Sandy Maliga8 years ago

My mother, an MD, worked on promoting sex ed back in the 1950's in New York. Here we are still trying to make the facts about human reproduction available to young people. Kids are likely to encounter provocative or degrading images and sounds; it is vital to present accurate information. Sexuality is a part of being human.

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Kate S.
Past Member 8 years ago

For those who can't be bothered watching(or who's internet plan runs on downloads like mine)- it's the goodies sex ed video. I love the goodies. So funny!

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