Why shouldn't schools teach sex ed?
Age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health curricula certainly seem to fall within the parameters of what our public school system is supposed to do — namely, educate students about the world and how it works and equip them for success as they grow toward adulthood.
Studies have repeatedly linked comprehensive sex ed to lower rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. So-called "abstinence-only" sex ed has little support within the scientific community.
Somehow, the myth persists that by teaching adolescents about their own bodies, our school system is prompting them to have sex. The thinking seems to go that all those sexy sex ed classes will make teens think about sex, and how to have sex, and having sex.
Newsflash: Teens are already thinking about sex. It's biological. The same raging hormones that are causing their voices to deepen and their acne to flare up are, naturally, transforming innocent children into teenagers who think about, fantasize about and, yes, sometimes even have sex.
Unfortunately, when hundreds of people packed into the Glencoe High School auditorium last week, it wasn't to protest hormones and their vile degradation of our pure-of-thought tots. It was to rumble about the Hillsboro School District's sex ed policies — many of them, in effect, blaming teachers for something that just naturally tends to happen with kids of a certain age.
We're glad the Hillsboro School Board, after taking input from the public, chose to approve a comprehensive sex ed curriculum.
Read our Nov. 1, 2019, story on the approval of the Hillsboro School District sexual education and health curriculum.
Some critics argue that the curriculum goes too far. Kids shouldn't be exposed to some of these facts, like how there are sexual orientations other than the heterosexual "default," they say. They shouldn't be learning about these things from teachers, but instead from parents who can instill their own values, they argue. They argue adolescents shouldn't be learning about "safe sex" and should instead be taught, to the extent they are taught about sex at all, that sex is dangerous and they should wait.
What it comes down to, though, is this discomfiting truth: Teens are going to have sex, whether they're taught safe sexual practices or not, whether they know their vas deferens from their fallopian tubes or not, whether they're in gender-segregated schools or not. Some will start having sex during high school, some won't start having sex until after high school, and unfortunately, some will start having sex as early as middle school. No amount of education, or lack of education, can halt the pubescent (and post-pubescent) drive to have sex.
We get it. No one wants their kids to be viewing pornography in classrooms. No one wants their kids to have adults encouraging them to engage in sexual activity. No one wants their kids to think it's "safe" for them to start stacking up sexual partners at 16, or 15, or 14, or 13, or 12.
But that's not the purpose of sex ed. The purpose of sex ed is to — recognizing that teens are intensely curious about sex and how their bodies work and how the bodies of other people work, and recognizing that many teens will have sex regardless of what they learn, or don't learn, at school — equip students with the knowledge to make responsible, or at least relatively responsible, choices.
The idea of two 14-year-olds having sex is uncomfortable. But does it somehow make it better if those kids, ignorant of sexual health, don't use contraception? And does it make it worse if those kids, having learned about less risky forms of sexual activity, forgo intercourse in favor of some euphemistic "heavy petting"?
In an ideal world, we'd like our kids to wait to have sex until their brains are developed and they're legally considered to be of a responsible enough age to make their own decisions as adults. In an ideal world, we imagine our kids maintaining a respectable few inches of separation as they slow-dance at homecoming or prom, going straight home afterward, and parting ways with no more than a peck on the cheek. In an ideal world, high school students never become mothers, the football team is never a vector for sexually transmitted disease, and kids and adults alike naturally know their own boundaries and respect the boundaries of others.
We don't live in an ideal world. We live in a world where nearly every person goes through puberty well before they reach adulthood. We live in a world where some people are reckless, some people are callous and some people are foolish. We live in a world where teens have sex, and there's very little the rest of us can do to stop them.
It's not irresponsible for the Hillsboro School District to have lesson plans that focus on sexual and reproductive health. In fact, it's irresponsible for any school district not to teach those lessons. We may hate the idea of our kids becoming sexually active, but what we should fear is the idea that their youthful indiscretions today will have consequences that are with them for the rest of their lives.
And likewise, it's not irresponsible for the Hillsboro School District to have lesson plans that teach about minority sexual orientations and dysphoria. Youth suicide rates are higher by far among LGBTQ students than they are among the general population, and a huge reason why is that many of them are struggling to realize and come to terms with their own identity, at the same time that — in many cases — they are receiving a loud and clear message from the society in which they live that being attracted to peers of the same gender is wrong, not identifying with the gender you're assigned at birth is wrong, and not fitting into "traditional" gender roles and dynamics is wrong.
Students should not feel that they are alone because their orientation or identity differs from most of their peers, and they should not feel judged or abandoned. Lessons that teach factually and even-handedly about the complexities of sex and gender can help prevent these students from becoming sad statistics. Every student deserves to feel supported, understood and cared for.
Education is not the enemy. Misinformation is the enemy. Ignorance is the enemy. Intolerance is the enemy.
We may not like the choices that children make, and in our darker moments, we may struggle to accept who they are. But they go to school to learn, not to be left in the dark. That's what this vote — a difficult vote, perhaps, but unequivocally the correct vote — helped to ensure.
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