Making the option of S-E-X education a national standard
UPDATE: Abstinence students still have sex at similar rates, recent study shows
Last week's Teacher Magazine poll on schools' approaches to sex education brought back bittersweet memories. Memories of giggling at fake ovaries and being mortified at all the places that hair could grow.
I learned much of my reproductive education not from my mother, a nurse who taught contraception courses in Taiwan in the early 1980s, but from the Montgomery County Public School system. As icky and super embarrassed as I felt about it in fifth grade, I was secretly relieved to have those weird things happening to my body demystified.
It was equally horrifying to sit through sex and health ed in the eighth and tenth grades, but once again, the frank conversations that the instructors engaged us in were enlightening. It made sex (and STDs) real (and totally, super gross). Although my parents sat my brother and I down separately for in-depth conversations about s-e-x, I never felt quite comfortable asking them whether it was true that Mountain Dew makes men shoot blanks. Luckily those myths, plus some slightly more important wonders of the human body, were debunked by the eighth grade gym teacher. We giggled. But we learned.
Sex and health are private matters. But it should be a national standard for all schools to offer the option of sex and health education. By not doing so, we're asking our children and families to face the risks of reality on their own. Many families don't have the full range of resources. Others are embarrassed by the subject. The least we can do as educators is offer the option of sex and health courses.
Today, my students are the same age I was when the weirdness of the human body (and boys) became real possibilities. I'm young enough to sympathize with them. But I'm old enough to see how much of a disadvantage we're putting them through by not offering sex and health education courses at school.
We don't teach sex or health classes at my school, but it doesn't stop my 13-year-olds from asking me about tattooing or condoms. And it won't stop kids from making out on the playground. And not talking about it will definitely not keep teenagers in inner-cities, rural communities or suburban sprawls from getting pregnant.
As a second-year middle school teacher, I've been around long enough to know that teenagers are still going to ask "inappropriate" questions and they're still going to do what they want to do. What we can do is educate them with the facts necessary to reconsider.