Mike’s recent post on sex education raised a few salient points that I’d like to expand upon….or should I say, sexpand upon.
No, I shouldn’t. Sorry about that sentence.
As far as I can tell from our discussions, the difference between myself and Mike on this issue is kind of at the heart of our political differences as well – he’s a tad closer to the libertarian side of things, whereas I’m a control freak and want the educational system to minimize the amount of stupidity I encounter on a daily basis.
So while we’re pretty much on the same side of the issue in terms of what ought to be taught in a sex education class (scientific facts, how things work, correct anatomy, nothing faith-based), our conflict seems to come in the area of whether it ought to be taught.
My first objection to the “this is an issue for the parents” argument is that many parents are ignorant, uncomfortable, ill-informed, or dishonest about the topic, and many simply don’t want to talk about it. Now, many states have an opt-out clause for sex education, and I guess that that can stay as a matter of principle. But the reason I want proper, detailed sex education in the schools is because sex is a big deal. It’s something most people (LARPers not included) deal with in their lives, and it holds enormous life-changing potential. Just as basics:
1) Birth. Sex is tied directly to state population, family size, distribution of resources, et cetera, et cetera. Proper sex education (which ought to touch on pre-natal care) would be tied to the health of children as well.
2) Public health. The best way to solve any epidemic is through preventative steps as policy, such as monitoring the food supply or requiring vaccines. So the best way to curb HIV and other illnesses is through a comprehensive sex education.
And these are just the official stated reasons. Mostly, I think the public k-12 education system ought to put more class time aside for education in the facts of life – how to write a resume, how to fill out a tax form, retirement plans, prenuptial agreements, child-rearing strategies, the maintenance of mental and physical health, how to avoid scams, et cetera. The secondary school which I attended offered a class called “Life Skills” which was pretty spotty in some areas but otherwise an excellent idea that was mostly helpful. We learned about IRAs, how a mortgage works, basics of taxes, addictions and health issues, ways of raising children (psychology isn’t exactly hard science, but it’s something), how to do a job interview. One of our history classes spent a good deal of time on detecting bias, which I think ought to be taught as well.
We’re best off with an educated public. If our kids are given available facts about life that can be empirically backed-up to some degree, they can use them without us worrying about having dictated by fiat how they ought to live their lives. Many of these are issues that we can’t trust to parents, because from the looks of things a great many parents don’t know all that much about finance, or health, or sex (aside from “nob A goes into hole – no, not that hole!”).
If somebody whines about the state not knowing how to raise children, I’m going to have to respond that I don’t fully trust people to raise their children – I’m quite honest about that. I’m also biased because I had relatively good teachers for a public school student (okay, our school was ranked in the top 100 of public schools, so I’m incredibly biased). Additionally, my girlfriend is a sex educator looking to go full-time, and more work for her equals more money for awesomeness.*
This is turning into a bit of a ramble, but the point is that I do think that the public ought to be informed about sex, and our education system is one of the best resources we have for at least a rudimentary presentation of the facts. Our population size, the amount of resources parents can provide for their children (based on whether they were able to plan their families), the spread of disease, and tolerance for people with different predilections can all be linked to a quality sex education.
As a final point, one concern I have for the future is that even when we abolish abstinence-only education, we will most likely still end up with an abstinence-biased education. My own school district provided plenty of information, but there was a serious leaning towards the “all STIs are horrible and scary, and if you give it up you give it away” school of thought. STIs ought to be taught like any other health issue – people need to know what’s going on, but if you use them as a scare tactic against premarital sex you’re just going to stigmatize them out of conversation. And the more you build up the myth of the “one special person,” the more emotional distress you’re going to risk having created. As far as I know, there is no epidemic of formerly “promiscuous” people (anyone who’s had casual sex, really) who are now completely unable to enjoy emotionally fulfilling sex; however there are plenty of young people who experience an awful lot of fear, guilt, and shame over their first time because they feel like they gave something up. Which of these seems to be caused by indoctrinated beliefs that have little factual basis? Just something to think about while we’re considering the issue of an education system that looks out for our health and well-being as well.
*I didn’t actually need to include that information; it’s just that when your sex toy purchases are tax-deductible, you tend to want to brag about it. Between the two of us, we can claim tax deductions for lube, rock concerts, theater tickets, dildos, CDs, buttplugs, cable television, pornography, and itunes purchases, all in the name of research for our jobs. (It seriously is research, but still, it’s pretty awesome.)