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Sex Education:

What's All the Fuss About?

Kids need to know about sex, don't they? Parents are embarrassed to tell them, so the schools must, OK? Anyway, people who oppose sex education are book burning Neanderthals, right?

Is that popular image a true one? There are clues that something is not right. A 1986 Harris Poll, showed that some sex education actually increases the likelihood of students becoming "sexually active."

"Comprehensive Sex Education" was defined as including four or more of the following: a) biological facts about reproduction, b) talk about coping with your sexual development, c) information about preventing sexual abuse, d) information about different kinds of birth control, e) facts about abortion and f) facts about where to get contraceptives.

Among a representative sample of 1000 teenagers, there was a 44% increased likelihood of a student having intercourse if he or she had been through comprehensive sex education as opposed to no sex education at all. There was a 53% increased likelihood of intercourse if the student had comprehensive sex education as opposed to basic reproductive sex education.

This was a finding of astounding importance. Yet it was not even noted in the text and had to be found by readers. Why was there no call for a moratorium on the present sex education programs? Probably because it was contrary to the policy of the sponsor of the study, Planned Parenthood.

This finding was not isolated. Marsiglio and Mott in 1986 (Family Planning Perspectives July/Aug 1986, p. 151) also found an increase in sexual activity by 15 and 16 year old girls who had been through sex education in school. Kilmann et al (Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol 10 # 2, p. 177ff) in 1981 showed few follow up studies on sex education curricula, but the most consistent effect for those studied was liberalization of sexual attitudes.

How can that be? Knowledge is supposed to be good, isn't it? There are at least three possible explanations for what is happening: 1) Some Sex Education material is sexually stimulating. (Why does pornography sell?) Someone who says graphic material is not a "turn on" is either very repressed or very jaded. 2) All options are portrayed to be safe if you use the right technology. 3) The expectation by the professionals is that adolescents will be sexually active no matter what and they convey this expectation to the kids.

Here is a concrete example. At Washburn High School in Minneapolis last year (with a parent present observing) a teacher of a mixed ninth grade health class first stated that condoms were 97Z effective, then had several boys and girls stand up in front of the class and take cards on the steps of condom use. They were to compare them with their classmates' cards, arrange themselves in the proper order and then read them aloud to the entire class. "Talk about having sex; buy the condom; have a romantic evening; get in the mood." Then there were explicit descriptions of each step in opening the package and unrolling the condom on the erect penis. Finally, the student she had picked to take the last card, a big football player, read (with feeling), "Ready for intercourse."

It would be bad enough to think that some sex educators have blundered so badly. It is even worse to realize that they may be doing exactly what the original proponents of sex education intended, many of whom did not want to promote traditional values, but on the contrary to change society.

Margaret Sanger, Founder of Planned Parenthood wrote this: "Through sex, mankind may attain the great spiritual illumination which will transform the world, which will light up the only path to an earthly paradise." (The Pivot of Civilization, NY Brentano's, 1922, p.270)

Mary Calderone, Founder of SIECUS (Sex Information and Education Council of the US)wrote: "Change is the new reality... The unchanging... is unreal, constraining, a false goal." "(Children) must become familiar with change, feel comfortable with it, understand it, master it, control it." "If man as he is, is obsolescent, then what kind do we want to produce in his place and how do we design the production line? -- that is the real question facing ... sex education." ("Sex Education and the Roles of School and Church," The) Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 376, March 1968, p.57.

Many of the proponents of sex education today are just plain deceived. They believe the lies and do not suspect the cover ups. They are doing what they think is right or are swayed by professional peer pressure. Yet the results are already producing disasters in the lives of our young people. A Minneapolis Public School Committee recently decided that the highest goal of sex education should be that: "Sensitivity to cultural diversity and sexual orientation be integrated in all sexuality material."

Ignorance is not the solution either. Rather we must convey accurate information and positive attitudes, encouraging the very best lifestyle. Traditional morality can now be taught with an exclamation point as the healthiest of all possibilities. One partner for life is scientifically and mathematically unassailable as the clear ideal. Young people need to know the reasons to strive for that goal and the reasons to avoid any compromise.

Many professionals look at the data on increasing rates of sexual activity with Age as normative. It is true that a majority have had at least one sexual experience by their senior year of high school. Many professionals conclude on the basis of this that we must simply accept what is and provide training and technology that will minimize their risks.

What is wrong with that approach? For one, we do not have to accept what is if it is not right. The high rates of teen smoking in the past were not used as reasons to just develop better filters and forget "stop smoking" programs. The present poor geographic knowledge of our students is not used as an argument to do away with geography classes.

Secondly, the technology is faulty. Condoms, used by young people under age 20, fail to prevent pregnancy in 18% over a year (Grady, "Contraceptive Failure in the United States," Family Planning Perspectives Sept./Oct. 1986, p. 200ff).There is preliminary data on the spread of AIDS that condoms will fail at least as often ("Evaluation of Heterosexual Partners, Children, and Household Contacts of Adults with AIDS," JAMA, Feb. 6, 1987, p.640 ff.). The use of condoms for anal intercourse, with breakage or slippage in about 1/3 of cases, is so unreliable that it cannot be considered of any use whatsoever (Wigersma, "Safety and Acceptability of Condoms," BMJ, July 11, 1987, p. 94).

Thirdly, some promote the idea that we can train adolescents to meet their "sexual needs" by mutual masturbation and other "safe" practices, and that they will therefore not resort to intercourse with its attendant risks (Hacker, "The Transition from the Old Norm to the New," SIECUS Report. June/July 1990). This is an untested idea that is unlikely to do anything but inflame passions even further. It also ignores the psychological repercussions of sexual activity. Sex, even "intercourse-free' sex, is a powerfully bonding intimate activity. Lives can be broken if it is treated as casual.

Many professionals and even some parents simply assume that chastity is impractical if not impossible. The message that the kids are getting, however, is that it is not even desirable (Star Tribune, March 5, 1991, Section E).

What can we do?

1. Do not be afraid to stand up for traditional morality. If you are a parent, do you want your kids involved in a series of temporary sexual relationships? Even if that was your own experience, you must, deep down inside, want something better for your own children.

2. Tell kids the reasons to wait. It is scientifically unassailable that one partner for life is the healthiest. Marriage between people who have waited for each other and have a relationship of complete commitment and trust is worth waiting for because it is also mentally the healthiest, no constant insecurity about measuring up to past and future relationships and wondering when this one will end.

3. Talk about the emotional consequences of sexual activity. The sexual relationship is meant to be permanent and exclusive. It can never be casual unless the psyche has been scarred.

4. Remember that kids need affection. Many get into sexual activity because they long for parental warmth. Boys and girls need warm hugs and pats from Mom, Dad and other caring adults.

Ross S. Olson MD circa 1988

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