Once upon a time, I was a high school social studies teacher. One of my favorite classes to teach was a college lecture-style current events course. I co-taught it with a handful of my colleagues and we gathered every morning in the school’s auditorium with the entire senior class. Since it was so convenient, administration occasionally used this time for other events like assemblies, graduation information, and the mandatory sex-education requirement for 12th graders. This requirement was fulfilled over the course of two days, where a sexual health educator from Planned Parenthood would come and lecture for two class sessions on contraception and STDs.
Ninety minutes. Ninety minutes over the course of an entire year. That is how long was devoted to teaching over 500 teenagers the ins and out of safe sex and sexuality. So it never failed to surprise me that, like clockwork, I would have students come up to me after the safe-sex presentation and ask me all sorts of questions. This is absolutely not to dismiss the wonderful educator from Planned Parenthood; she knew her stuff and was a pro at disseminating the information to teens. She never faltered, used to the outbursts, titters, and hand gestures routinely made … especially as she demonstrated the proper way to put on a condom.
Yet, with only 90 minutes devoted to this topic, there always seemed to be lingering questions. Occasionally I even had students — 18-year-olds — who came up to me, astounded when they learned about the high rates of certain STDs, and asked if I could help them schedule an appointment to get tested at a local clinic. While dismayed that we had allowed young adults to get to this point without a better understanding of reproductive health, I was proud that they were being proactive and had no trouble helping them. Looking back on that, had anyone in administration found out, I wonder if my job would have been in jeopardy. But you know what? I’m glad I was able to help.
There has always been controversy surrounding sex education. Some people even think it has no place in schools, despite the fact that comprehensive sex-ed has been shown to delay the onset of sexual activity, reduce the number of sexual partners, and increase the use of condom and contraception use. Even though most schools offer an opt-out option for students whose families disagree with the curriculum or would just prefer to teach their kids at home, one school district has come under fire for supposedly having “too much sex” in their sex-ed curriculum.
The Fremont, California school district has been targeted by parents for the planned use of the Your Health Today textbook with their high school freshman classes. The book, which was chosen over six other books after a review process, covers a wide range of topics including chapters on physical activity, nutrition, spirituality, cancer, body image, alcohol and tobacco, mental health and stress, and yes … reproductive health. Only two chapters out of the full 19 are related to sex-ed, with one focusing on relationships and sexual health and the other on reproductive choices. Yet, some parents are up in arms about the book. So much so that over 2,200 of them have signed a petition to remove the book from the school.
Many of the parents are upset over the explicit drawings used and worry they may border on pornography. Others are upset that the book includes information on orgasms, vibrators, and light bondage. According to KPIX-TV, Fremont parent Latonya Stevenson was not a fan of the book’s illustrations, saying that they’re “…a bit much for me, I’m not comfortable with my child – I mean, wow, that’s, the graphics are extreme. They are very pornographic. The pictures are very explicit.”
How else do parents suggest we adequately explain certain concepts of reproductive health to their children? If we place black bars over all the “explicit” stuff, we’re doing no better than abstinence-only education curriculums (which, by the way, have continuously been found to have no positive impact on teen sexual behavior). If my seven-and-a-half-year-old son can handle the illustrated (somewhat cartoon-ish, but still accurate) drawings in his beloved book, It’s So Amazing, I think teens twice his age can handle an age-appropriate textbook geared toward providing a basis for smart, healthy sex-related decisions.
And, let’s be honest: how many of these 14-year-olds have already had some form of sex “education” via the Internet? Wouldn’t parents prefer an actual curriculum to offset the viewing of “Hot Anal Gang Bang 4?” And if any parent thinks that their precious teen snowflake has not seen at least a snippet of Internet porn — either on purpose or by accident — they are living in a world of denial.
There’s also the argument for a big, bad game of telephone being played here, where parents hear about this supposedly horrific, lurid textbook and blindly sign on to the petition against it without ever having actually seen or read the book in question. Becky Bruno, another Fremont parent, was going to sign the petition after receiving a barrage of emails from fellow parents who were angry over the textbook. When she finally was able to actually see the pictures in question, she told The Oakland Tribune:
“I was expecting to see explicit pictures, expecting controversial information, and I didn’t find that in the book. Yes, there is a section on sexual health, but the pictures are drawings of anatomy and would be the same thing they were exposed to in elementary and middle school. I didn’t see anything that would be categorized as pornography, and that’s what some of the parents are saying.”
Many of the parents who signed the petition commented that they just want to protect their children. Well, we all want to protect our kids. Arming children with accurate and comprehensive education and creating a solid informational base with which to grow with when it comes to sexuality and sex health will do more to protect them than covering our eyes and ears and hoping for the best.
Avital Norman Nathman blogs at The Mamafesto. Her book, The Good Mother Myth: Redefining Motherhood To Fit Reality, is out now. Follow her on Twitter.