As if sex ed for most kids doesn’t happen until fifth or six grade in Colorado.
State lawmakers are poking over state laws addressing sex education in public schools, and of course there’s plenty of push back about having “the talk” with kids about to enter middle school.
Several lifetimes ago, I was a social worker. I know; you’re shocked. 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. As it turned out, the same thing that made me a good newspaper reporter made me a good social worker. I was easy to talk to. 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 was no doubt that there are 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 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.
What amazes me is how shocked or misinformed so many people are about that. In a country where we sexualize just about everything and bombard people with sexual images from the time they are born, why would it be so surprising that teenagers are often preoccupied with sex and sexually active at a very early age?
Drawing kids into group and individual conversations about sex doesn’t put them at risk, it only makes them safer from abuse, from disease, from pregnancy, from psychological problems and a lifetime sentence for making an avoidable mistake.
Reach editor Dave Perry at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]