A new bill backed by Planned Parenthood of New York would create a taskforce to study and consider improvements to sex education programs, according to a New York Times article this week. The article details how sex education is often pushed aside from children’s education in NYC public schools, despite a 2011 mandate to provide sex education for a semester in both middle and high school.
But there’s an argument to be made for less sex ed in schools. Because as the article explains, schools’ sex education isn’t just about the biology of sex:
Students at the Urban Assembly Institute get sex education every year, starting in the sixth grade with lessons on puberty and anatomy, as well as things like crushes and the emotional changes of adolescence, and continuing in later years with information on sexually transmitted infections and contraception. At all levels, the students learn about having healthy relationships, not just with romantic partners, but with parents and friends, and about different gender identities and sexual orientations. ‘L.G.B.T. identity is woven in and normalized throughout the entire school year,’ Ms. Zondon” [a sex educator in NYC] said.
Let’s be clear: sex education is not neutral. Programs foster certain values surrounding sexuality, families, and gender. If that’s the kind of “education” children are getting, then let’s hope that NYC continues to push their sex ed programs aside for other, less propagandized subjects.
But unfortunately, even if sex ed is getting squeezed out in NYC schools, sex education programs are a ubiquitous part of public education. All 50 states have some form of sex education in public schools, but only four states require parental consent to participate in the sex ed program. And parents are not always told what is taught.
Schools aren’t the only places our kids learn about sex. In “The Briefing” podcast episode on May 2, Al Mohler said “someone is always trying to tell our children stories, and that includes the story of sex. Hollywood and the cultural elites are trying to tell our children their version of the story of sex; so are so-called progressive sex educators pushing their agenda of what they call comprehensive sex education in the schools and in the larger culture.”
The internet also has a vast influence on our children’s understanding of sex. Mobile devices allow a vast majority of teens to be exposed to pornography before they turn 18, with an average age of 11 for a child’s first exposure to pornography. And tweens and teenagers aren’t the only ones porn—children under the age of 10 account for almost a quarter of online porn use by people 18 and younger. And this doesn’t even consider the teens and young adults sending and receiving sexually explicit images.
Why Aren’t Parents Talking to Their Kids About Sex?
The world our children are growing up in is drastically different place from the one I lived in as a child. When I was 10, my biggest concern was whether I’d be allowed to stay up to watch the entire lineup of TGIF.
That’s why I’m flabbergasted when I hear parents say they aren’t talking to their kids about sex. Last week at the soccer field, parents were discussing the texts their 11-year-old boys were getting from girls. One dad sighed and said he figured it was about time to have the talk.
“I’m not ready for that!” another dad replied. “I’ll wait another few years.”
I’m not sure what world these parents live in. But if they are just now thinking about introducing their children to sexuality, they’ve most likely missed their chance. But they aren’t alone—in a 2013 study, 29 percent of the teens polled did not have conversations with their parents about sex.
Do we really want schools, the internet, or other children to be the ones teaching our children about sex? We have to get over our fear of talking about sex with our children. We should be exponentially more uncomfortable with strangers—whether schoolteachers or pornographers online—teaching our children about this beautiful aspect of our humanity.
‘Knowledge Doesn’t Mean A Loss Of Innocence’
Mary Flo Ridley has been teaching parents how to talk to their children about sex since 1986.
The first step she gives parents is to think about the cornerstone message they want to give their children about sex. She encourages them to weave that message into every conversation about sexuality. She compares children’s minds to sponges: if parents saturate their children with their family’s values, then when a child comes across the world’s messages about sex, he or she will be less likely to internalize an opposing idea or value. Children who do not learn about sex from their parents are left vulnerable to whatever the world wants to tell them.
I asked Ridley what stops parents from talking to their children about sex.
“Many people don’t talk to their children about sex because they think they will preserve their children’s innocence,” Ridley said. “Knowledge about sex, however, doesn’t mean a loss of innocence. Additionally, sometimes parents are scared that their kids will make the same mistakes they did. Parents have to remember their past is not necessarily their kids’ future. It is to a family’s advantage to shape children’s foundational understanding about sex.”
Start When Kids Are Young
Parents cannot postpone a talk with their children about sexuality. Children are assaulted with sexual images and ideas everywhere: even at the grocery store, or while watching commercial breaks. We must begin these conversations when our children are young and continue them throughout their childhood. When parents serve as the first source for their children, their kids will learn to regard them as experts. Any information they receive elsewhere will be compared to what their parents taught them.
But if a child isn’t taught by mom and dad, he or she will likely think his parents are ignorant about the subject. By having these conversations when our children are little, we reduce our awkwardness when they are older. They’ll also be more likely to seek us out when they have questions.
Parents, let’s do our job of teaching our children about sex so that the schools won’t get to. You may think you have time to prepare because your child hasn’t asked questions about sex yet. But your thinking is likely erred. Your kid is asking questions; he’s just not asking you.