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Health, Nutrition & Fitness        < Previous        Next >



What Kind of Sex Ed Do the KIDS Want?


Q. The conflict over sex education in schools doesn't seem to have any hope of a solution any time soon. On one hand, you have parents who want their children to be like Pilgrims - totally sexless until marriage - and on the other hand, you have parents, and a lot of educators, who think it is fine to enable kids to be promiscuous and open themselves up to a world of hurt, both emotionally and medically. How can we ever hope to bring these two extremes to a compromise that we can all live with?


Well, why don't we ask the KIDS what kind of sex education THEY would like to have? Because guess what? They don't like those two extremes, either.


In a review of studies and surveys that purport to support abstinence-ONLY sex education or what's called "comprehensive" sex ed because it veers into R- and sometimes X-rated material, a Manhattan Institute scholar concluded that students don't appear to like either approach, and would prefer something more in the middle.


"Comprehensive sexual education promises pleasure, but abstinence education pushes honor - and a surprising number of kids seem interested in buying," Kay Hymowitz concluded.


When abstinence education is at the center of the sex ed curriculum - the idea that abstaining from sex is the only way to avoid the physical and emotional damage that can occur with casual sex - the message gets across the best of all styles of sex ed.


One survey of 1,000 teenage girls conducted by the National Abstinence Education Association concluded that the No. 1 thing girls want to know in the realm of sex ed is "how to say no." When they are in a "comprehensive sex ed" classroom in which the assumption is that all the kids are going to be sexually active, past, present and future, it is very difficult for a girl to maintain the ego strength that it takes to buck the system, including the teacher, and assert in class that she is going to remain a virgin.


And students who want to make the "honorable" lifestyle choices are served better when the more controversial parts of the sex ed curricula are taught respectfully, professionally and with sensitivity. Stunts like pulling a condom over a banana, in the guise of teaching kids about contraceptives, are so coarse and embarrassing that they are counter-productive, though students do want information about contraceptives as part of their sex ed course work.


A study conducted by the Institute for Research and Evaluation of Virginia teens who received abstinence education found that they are half as likely to initiate sexual activities as students who did not receive this education.


The destructive polarity that has evolved between proponents of abstinence-only sex education, and those who think kids should be taught everything in a no-holds-barred atmosphere, including sex positions and how to put on a condom, has created a real tightrope that educators must walk. Maybe it's time to pay attention to what the kids want. And increasingly, that seems to be "abstinence PLUS" education.


That means they want to be taught sex ed in an atmosphere in which the adults expect that they will NOT have sex before or outside marriage, but they still will be taught, in a respectful way, about contraceptives, sexually-transmited diseases, pregnancy, abortion and all the other controversial side topics that often have conservative parents in a tizzy when schools try to tackle those topics.


Kids don't like to feel pressured either way, and they like to make their own choices, so a professional classroom atmosphere that is both pro-abstinence and pro-sex is closest to what they want. After the "facts of life" are taught and the kids are clear on where babies and STD's come from, which should take only one class period, then the rest of the nine-week course can be spent on the important work of sex education, which is basically relationships and boundaries.


Another approach they like is to put the more embarrassing content online, so that they can read it and/or view it in private.


What can parents do on their own to make sex ed a success with their child? Three simple things:


1.                          Start talking to your child about sex, in age-appropriate language and illustrations, from early childhood and regularly on through adolescence. It's a false stereotype that parents only need to have "the talk" ONCE with a child. It should be an ongoing education process, and the atmosphere should be relaxed and natural, not stilted or tense, when you talk about this important topic.


2.                          Religious education is closely associated with getting to marriage with a minimum of sex-related problems, probably because religious belief is a great vehicle for self-control.


3.                          According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, children and teens who have two or fewer family meals per week had worse grades and tended to have more sex and more substance abuse, than their peers. The optimum is five or more family meals each week. Work with your child's coaches and friends to try to let your child do all the things he or she wants to do, and still have that precious family time, too.


Homework: Find out what's in your school's sex ed curriculum, and get involved in changing it for the better.


By Susan Darst Williams Health 08 2008


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