Nonsense about sex is nearly as old as sex itself, and endless hours of senseless testimony at the state Capitol Wednesday made that clear.
A committee of state lawmakers approved a long-overdue measure late last night that essentially updates state sex-education policy, prohibiting absurd abstinence-only curricula.
As you can imagine, the naive, the weird, the misguided and the wholly ignorant flooded a legislative committee hearing to embarrass themselves and the state.
Before you get all weird about this yourself, here’s the thing: This change would keep in place any parent’s right to have their kid opt-out of sex ed at school.
Nobody’s forcing anybody to do anything, despite what a coordinated push from right-wing religious extremists are trying to have you believe.
I feel strongly about this issue because I’ve seen it from a side most people haven’t.
Several lifetimes ago, I was a social worker. Fresh out of college, I worked for a teen pregnancy program in Five Points and taught sex education in Denver Public Schools. I was the one who got one hell of an education back then.
I would fill a bag with diaphragms, IUDs and plastic internal and external organs and set out each week to schools to teach kids about human sexuality.
Invariably, after explaining to kids the basic biology of human sexuality and how humans become pregnant, any number of kids would either ask sensitive questions during group discussions or linger after to get the answers they were looking for. They had lots of misinformation and were always looking for real answers.
Let me tell you this, no matter how frankly and frequently you discuss human sexuality with your kids, just about every one of them has unanswered questions. Too many of them don’t have a clue.
Oh, they know about the mechanics of sex. Since Americans are exposed to the media about 7 hours a day by age 8, they have sexuality right in front of their faces almost constantly. But they get conflicting, sometimes dead wrong, messages about sex. Pornography is not sex education.
I regularly asked kids in sex ed classes what they knew about birth control. I regularly heard that douching with carbonated beverages, especially Pepsi, just after sexual intercourse was an effective form of birth control. I regularly heard that it was impossible for a girl to get pregnant the first time she had intercourse. I regularly heard that masturbation caused everything from blindness, to warts, to homosexuality, to thick ankles, to kidney stones, to life in hell.
I regularly heard that humans can get or give sexually transmitted diseases only if they have sexual intercourse, not oral sex.
I heard it all. But afterward, I would hear kids who were scared. Many were afraid they were pregnant, afraid their partners were pregnant, afraid people would find out they were homosexuals, afraid they had a sexually transmitted disease, or afraid their parents would find out what they were doing. It was a lot of fear.
At the time, the Reagan Administration was coming to full power and insisted that sex ed programs receiving federal funding — which almost all did — teach kids that abstinence was the only real answer to every question they had. It was beyond stupid. I was working with kids who were parents at age 14 or others who were just damned lucky they weren’t.
It isn’t that I wouldn’t make it clear that thinking about sex was no big deal, but having sex with someone was a very big deal that could bring on very real consequences.
There is a very large group of kids who are going to have sex no matter what they know. Get over it.
Those kids must have straight, frank information to protect themselves from abuse, from disease and from early pregnancy. Effective sex ed does all that.
Kids unclear or uncomfortable about their sexuality need resources for support that help them understand homosexuality is not a defect, not a disease, not a crime and not a shame, regardless of what their parents, peers or religious contacts say. Anything less can cause a lifetime of mental anguish and even suicide.
That’s not a value judgment. It’s science.
Kids who don’t have good, accurate information about human sexuality still have sex, they just have a higher rate of getting HIV or pregnant. Well-informed kids don’t have sex any more or less than those who aren’t exposed to quality sex-ed programs, they just don’t die from it nearly as often or suffer serious setbacks because of it.
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