Friday, April 23, 2010

Does Sex Ed Belong in School?

The climb down by Premier McGuinty yesterday on sex education is a welcome move for which he is to be commended. He is right that not enough consultation with parents took place and that alone is sufficient reason to halt the implementation of the curriculum.

Charles McVety scored a hit when he claimed that the curriculum had been influenced by "special interest groups." No doubt much of the anger on display today from the cultural Marxist, sexual revolutionaries this morning arises from the fact that their cover was blown. More consultation with parents can only hurt their cause.

But this is an important moment in Ontario. We need to realize that social conservatives, the Roman Catholic bishops, the Muslim community, Evangelicals and parents have a rare opportunity to re-frame the debate and create a conversation about what is best for children and society as a whole.

The question I want to raise is: "What, if anything, should be taught to schoolchildren under the rubric of sex education?" I don't want to presuppose that sex education ought to be allowed in schools at all; that all depends on what we mean by sex education. But I suspect that many people would be comfortable with some of the things that are usually counted as part of sex education being taught in schools, though they worry that the schools will go far beyond what they see as appropriate. And certainly, for most people, what is inappropriate for younger children may be fine for older children. Then too, there is a major distinction between the "facts of life," that is, what is part of biology class, versus the morality of sexual relationships, marriage, contraception, abortion and new reproductive technologies. Science is one thing; ethics is another.

The view that everybody should enjoy anything that is pleasurable and is done with consent of both partners at any age is the ethical/religious position of many secularists and atheistic materialists in the social sciences and educational theory. But this view is firmly rejected by all the major world religions and by the vast majority of parents. So it should not be imposed on children in publicly-funded schools. And by "imposed" I mean that it must not form the background worldview out of which the curriculum is written.

So what should the schools do about sex education? Let me suggest three goals of sex education that I think the vast majority of parents could agree on.

1. The first goal of sex education should be to treat human sexuality as good, mysterious and powerful, rather than as trivial and banal. Or bodies are treated as sex toys and sex is seen as routine in much of our culture and this is degrading to all of us. Schools should deliberately set out to counter the influence of movies, advertising and music insofar as they portray a degraded view of human sexuality. Schools should raise the bar on sex and treat it as something beautiful and human, rather than as something to be experimented with and used as a tool to get other things you want.

2. The second goal of sex education should be to raise the average age of first sexual experience for young people. Ideally, sexual activity should begin with marriage and be limited to one's husband or wife. But given that we are a long way from this ideal, the school's sex education curriculum should try to give students reasons to delay becoming sexually active for as long as possible. The curriculum should not simply take the path of least resistance and capitulate to the idea that we should just give up and distribute condoms since there is no hope of getting today's young people to practice any amount of self-restraint. This fatalistic attitude should be resisted.

3. The third goal of sex education should be to empower girls by informing them that they do not "owe" boys access to their bodies and that they have the right to say "No." They need to know that the teacher, the school nurse, the principal and society in general stands behind them in affirming their value and worth as persons who do not have to "prove" their "love" by becoming sexually active at an early age. Role-playing in which girls learn good answers to boys who try to pressure them into having sex and essays on the health benefits of waiting to have sex and having fewer sex partners.

What assumptions inform these goals?

1. Humans are more than animals and sex is primarily about procreation and love, not primarily about pleasurable physical sensations.

2. Christians and Jews believe that permanent, monogamous, heterosexual marriage is the ideal for human sexual relationships. Cohabitation, divorce and remarriage and homosexuality are all deviations from the ideal. But in a pluralistic society, this assumption need not be held by all. For the purpose of the public school curriculum design, all that is necessary is that we assume together that promiscuity is a public health hazzard because it leads to sexually transmitted diseases (some of which are incurable) and infertility. So the assumption we can hold is common is that the fewer sexual partners each person has, the better.

3. Men want sex more than women and sex is riskier and more of a commitment for a woman, who is the one to carry the child in her body for 9 months and is more firmly attached to the child after birth. So the role of society should be to empower women so that they can resist becoming sexually active prematurely. Many contemporary societal influences are on the side of men glorifying promiscuity, promoting casual sex and telling women that they should be just like men. Schools should counter these negative influences by helping girls grow into strong, confident women who do not need to trade sex for approval because they know that they are worth waiting for and any man who won't wait is a jerk best left in the dust.

Elevate the dignity of men and women as sexual beings, emphasize waiting so that sex can be experienced as part of a permanent relationship and empowering women. These are goals all of us should be able to rally around. If these goals form the basis of the sex education curriculum, very few parents will feel undermined or threatened. And most importantly, young people will be helped to grow up happy and healthy.

I'd be interested in your reaction to these ideas and your own ideas as to what the goals of sex education should be. Please leave a comment.

1 comment:

Peter W. Dunn said...

Good thoughts. I would add however that some training for boys is also in order. The focus of your post is on empowering girls to protect themselves from the negative aspects of male sexuality (point 3). Boys could learn to channel their desires towards being good protectors and providers for their families. There should be something positive in sex education for boys. Too often the focus is upon the negative side of male sexuality--men seen as predators-- and this results in very low expectations for boys.