Friday, December 03, 2004

Sex, Abstinence and its place in school

On the heels of World AIDS Day, combined with $168 million in new federal funding for abstinence-only education and objections by parents in Maryland to safe sex education involving a video with a woman putting a condom on a cucumber, I thought I might take on the issue of sex, abstinence and its place in the school.

As a teacher, I believe that children should be taught everything they will need to know in their lifetime. There is no virtue in ignorance. I don't believe that schools can or should teach everything. The truth is that a teacher will spend roughly (6hr/day*180 days) 1100 hours a year with a child in the primary years. Much, much less once a child finishes elementary school. Compared with the amount of time a child has spent with parents over a year or even a lifetime, the effect a teacher has on a pupil is much less than the parent. If you ask anyone to rank their greatest influence over how they behave, parents will rank higher than teachers almost every time. If parents are teaching their kids clearly about sex, a teacher won't have a significant effect. If their is a vacuum of teaching, then the first one to educate will have a strong sway over the student.

When it comes to sex, parents should be speaking with their children. This is a Biblical commandment. Deuteronomy 4:8-10, Deuteronomy 11:18-20, Psalm 78:4-6, Ephesians 6:4 all speak of teaching or instructing your child in the way of the Lord. There is a clear and consistent message throughout the Bible that sex is to be between a married couple only. There is plenty of Biblical and "wordly" knowledge to show that sex outside of a committed long-term loving relationship is harmful to everyone involved. If Christian parents were teaching their children and every child came from a Christian home schools wouldn't have to teach about sex.

However, that isn't the case. Problems like AIDS, teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are not just personal problems. They are societal problems. The solutions must come from the society in the form of community and government response. The government can and should respond to make sure that students are taught about their sexual health. It saves lives and money! This is a no-brainer. To avoid the topic of sex is to avoid one of the strongest urges/temptations humans have.

The question becomes how does one teach about sex? The current mood among sex educators is one of tip-toeing around the issue and avoiding controversial topics because the socially-conservative Chrisitan Right makes a stink. Here is just one example. People getting up in arms because the school program calls for frank talk about sex including discussion of relationships and how to use a condom properly. Do these parents think that kids aren't thinking about sex? That what they see on television and print media doesn't arouse some sort of questioning in their developing bodies? Sure sex is private, but it is one of the most common acts in the world. The names and faces change, but the act (and surrounding issues) are the same today as they were during the Exodus.

Congress just approved $173 million for abstinence-only education. That is a real shame. Abstinence-only education works, right up until it doesn't! Then the student is left with only ignorance and conjecture. No only is this irresponsible on the part of the educators, but potentially deadly for the student. A recent article by the Washington Post has shown that many of these abstitence-only programs (9 of 11) provide false, mis-leading or incorrect information to the students. Who does this serve? Scare kids about sex? Then how will they make the transition to enjoying sex (as they are suppose to) inside marriage? One day sex is dirty, scary and potentially deadly and the next day it is something to be cherished, enjoyed and practiced regularly?

Come on let's get real! Why not have evangelicals lead the charge in explaining the sanctity of sex? Why not start telling kids how wonderful sex is? We tell them about how wonderful voting or (maybe) having a beer is, but they must wait and many do. I think to not teach abstinence is to sell kids short. Many have self-control and have their long-term interest in their sights. They will not jeopardize that by being stupid. Those kids can be taught about sex and it won't make them want to have sex. Instead they will be better prepared when they decide to get married and have sex. However, some won't. Some kids (and adults) are reckless. When did recklessness become a capital crime?

Uganda has a wonderful system. They have lowered the AIDS rate dramatically in their country. It is a simple ABC program.
    B=being faithful
    C=correct and consistent condom use
For this program to work, a frank and clear discussion of sex must occur. This allows a clear explanation of the value in waiting to have sex and keeping the marriage bed pure, but also gives people real knowledge about disease and pregnancy prevention. Is the church willing to adopt a program like this in their local schools? Doesn't this program meet both sides of the argument?