What do I do when sex education comes up at school?
What would you do when your child comes home and tells you that the teacher was talking about condoms and birth control in his or her physical education class? As a parent, you're probably not comfortable with those topics being raised at your child's age, and without your knowledge or consent.
Parents can effectively and winsomely resist explicit, non-directive ("anything-goes") sex education in their schools, especially at the elementary-school level, by rallying together and speaking out.
And, you're not alone in your desire to see sexuality issues handled respectfully and with age-appropriateness in the classroom. A national survey of parents' and teens' attitudes toward sexuality and abstinence — conducted by a government agency — indicates that the majority of parents and teens believe sex should be reserved for marriage and that high-school students should not be having sex. Parents and teens want the highest standard of sexuality upheld in schools, with parents remaining the primary teachers of their values, religion and morals surrounding sexuality.)
What you should know
Parents should always be the primary communicators with their children about sexuality, imparting beliefs, values, morals, ethics and family religious positions. No effective program can operate without the help, support and involvement of parents (guardians). Schools should want parental involvement and do everything in their power to make this possible.
The best option for sex education in the classroom is to teach and uphold sexual abstinence as the expected standard, while involving parents in discussions that teachers are having with the students. Giving parents the opportunity to "opt out" their children from sex education classes that are contrary to the family's beliefs is a good policy for schools to adopt. For more, see "Bad Sex Ed in Your School? What Parents Can Do."
Important Information on Sex Education Programs
Sex education programs generally fall into one of two categories: comprehensive and abstinence-centered.
Comprehensive sex education: Sometimes called "abstinence-plus" education, this is a non-directive approach – in that students are not given any moral direction about whether or not to engage in sex. This approach to sexuality follows a "if-it-feels-good-do-it" philosophy.
Key elements include:
- Parental input is avoided and teen sexual behavior is isolated from parent and family input. The message is, "It's your body and your decision, not your parents." Teens are encouraged to make their own sexual decisions apart from their parents.
- Sex is taken out of the context of marriage and inserted into the normal expected behavior of children and teens. Approval and encouragement is given to children and teens to explore sexuality, as long as it's pleasurable and consensual. Children and teens that remain sexually abstinent are framed as odd or abnormal because everyone else is "doing it." Sexual foreplay, fantasy, homosexuality, pornography and mutual masturbation are all "approved" and encouraged.
- "Safe sex" is a primary message for comprehensive sex education. Children and teens are told that sex outside of marriage can be "safe" if they use a condom or another form of "protection." Failure rates and probabilities of experiencing an unplanned pregnancy or STD are often not emphasized. Basically, anything sexual goes – just be "safe" and use a condom.
- Materials produced by the following groups are likely to have a non-directive, comprehensive sex-education approach:
- Planned Parenthood
- Education Training Research Associates (ETR)
- Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS)
- Guttmacher Institute
- Advocates for Youth (AFY)
- National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
- Kaiser Family Foundation
Read more about "comprehensive" sex education and its lack of effectiveness.
Abstinence-centered sex education: This is a character-based, directive approach to sex education that primarily focuses preventing high-risk behavior, the core cause of unwed pregnancies and the spread of STDs.
Key elements include:
- Parental (guardian) support and input is essential to a successful program, and most curricula include student-parent exercises to expand and facilitate parent-child or parent-teen communication about sexuality. The view is that parents are the primary educators of their children in the area of sexuality.
- Sexual abstinence is a directive approach that communicates the highest and healthiest expected sexual standard for children and teens: that they refrain from sexual activity until they are old enough to make a wise choice regarding a spouse and get married. Those who are sexually active are directed to change their behavior away from high-risk sexual activity before their future potential is further compromised.
- Materials are age appropriate. Character traits such as honesty, self-control, responsibility, caring about others' wellbeing, courage, humility, self-discipline and justice are taught so that children and teens will learn to view life through this lens. Waiting for the best sexual context (marriage) and focusing on life-success objectives (finishing school, college, job, marriage) are the primary objectives of this type of curriculum.
- There is no sex that is "safe" outside of marriage. The myth that sex can be "safe" with a condom or birth control is debunked and the risks of sexual activities are discussed. Children and teens are discouraged from being sexually active. Failure rates and probabilities of experiencing an unplanned pregnancy or STDs are emphasized.
Read more about abstinence-centered education.
Copyright © 2011 Focus on the Family.