The Oxford English dictionary gives the following definition of “ridiculous”: "Deserving or inviting derision or mockery; absurd." Ridiculous, is, for example, requiring that students take a 15-minute walk to another school instead of being taught in their own classrooms. I begin with this story about sex education in the United States by noting that the problems in teaching sex education do not simply occur in conservative states. In fact, the mockery that is sex education in many places in the U.S. is a problem across many school districts in all parts of the country.
When I was a sophomore attending a New York City public school, our math teacher was sick one day and a substitute was sent in. The class was excited to find that, not only would we not have our regular lesson, but the substitute sent in was a health and fitness teacher and not a math teacher, therefore almost guaranteeing that we would not be doing work. In my school, students either learned about sex education at the beginning or at the end of their high school careers. It was an all or nothing game that the school played: Half of you learn it all now, the other half, well, we hope your parents and peers will share some information.
The teacher walked in and sat herself down on the desk, saying something along the lines of “Here's all the sex ed you will ever need.” A book with detailed, graphic photos of body parts affected by STDs was being circulated around the room, causing gasps, shrieks and groans of disgust in its path. The system was clearly flawed, but we were lucky to even have sex ed.
Over the years, the arguments against sex ed in the U.S. have evolved to meet the message that advocates for sex education presented. One of the most important changes in the mission to promote sex education in America has been the move towards comprehensive sexual education, rather that just “Sex Ed.” According to the Atlantic's Barbara Whitehead:
“Comprehensive sex education includes much more than a movie about menstruation and a class or two in human reproduction. It begins in kindergarten and continues into high school. It sweeps across disciplines, taking up the biology of reproduction, the psychology of relationships, the sociology of the family, and the sexology of masturbation and massage. It seeks not simply to reduce health risks to teenagers but also to build self esteem, prevent sexual abuse, promote respect for all kinds of families, and make little boys more nurturant and little girls more assertive. As Dr. Elders explains, comprehensive sex education is not just about giving children a "plumbing lesson."
Aside from teaching students about all aspects of human sexuality, the use of emergency contraception drugs, the maintenance of sexual health, healthy relationships, and positive body image, comprehensive Sex Ed arms students with the tools needed to combat the prevalent cyberbullying that has taken the lives of countless teens in the U.S. How could Comprehensive Sex Ed, which proposes to promote a gender-balanced Sex Education curriculum that counteracts negative forces such as the U.S.' rape culture and slut shaming, be rationally opposed? Because where there's a will, there's a way, I present the most seven most ridiculous arguments against Comprehensive Sex Education.
1. “Sex Ed is Just Like Driver's Ed! It Inevitably Leads to 'License' For Sexual Activity”
In most states, the driving age and the age of legal consent are one and the same (around 16-years-old). While on one hand, authorities can legally restrict students from hitting the road, they cannot in fact restrict them from hitting the sack. As a result, students are having sex much before they are able to drive, and much before they receive any sort of appropriately accurate information about the subject. Equating the driving age as the age students should learn about sex is silly — considering that many students are engaging in sexual activity before this. In fact, according to the Gale Encyclopedia of Education, “In general, older adolescents (age fifteen and older) demonstrate a reduction in early sexual activity, whereas adolescents younger than thirteen demonstrate an increase in sexual activity.”
2. “Banning Sex Ed Will Steer Students Away From Gateway Sexual Activities”
Let's face it, while many think that sex can be addicting, the idea of treating sexual activity, in its many iterations, along the premise of drug use promotes a degrading view of human sexual relations. As lawmakers in Ohio discovered, a fair and balanced form of sex education should involve information about sexual all kinds of sexual activity that may result in pregnancy or an STD. Assuming that the narrative is one in which Sex Ed consequently leads to "gateway" sexual activity, which must lead to intercourse is preposterous.
3. “All You Need is Love — And Abstinence”
In a recent story, a West Virginia teen denounced her school's administration for forcing students to attend a session with a speaker who engaged in a slut-shaming, paranoia-inducing, your-mother-will-hate-you-if-you-have-sex debacle. After protesting the abstinence-only program at her school, the school's principal threatened to call Wellesley College, one of the most progressive Universities (and Seven Sisters Women's college!) in the United States, to rescind her admissions. This coming in the wake of the Steubenville Rape trial, and controversy over Ohio lawmakers' attempts to pass abstinence-only education laws in the state. Despite the fact that abstinence only education has been proven to be ineffective, legislators still give taxpayer money to programs that do not work.
4. “Parents Don't Want Their Kids Learning About Sex in Schools”
According to Advocates for Youth, this is largely a myth. They write that “over the past 20 years, in survey after survey, local, state or national, 80 to 85% of parents indicate they want their children to receive comprehensive, medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education. Parents see such courses and content as supplementing, not supplanting, their discussions at home.” 'Nuff said.
5. “Premarital Sex Rates Will Increase If Sex Ed is Taught”
Imagine if milennials received no form of sexual education until they were married at the age of 29 or 27? The logic of the highly moralistic argument that relies on the premise that the right kind of sex occurs between two people who are in married, has been challenged by the statistics indicate that the rate of first marriage among men (29) and women (27) in the U.S. has increased exponentially in the past 50 years. This argument would have held water in 1960 when on average, women and men were married at the ages of 22 and 20 respectively.
6. “Sex Education Supports a Pro-Abortion Agenda”
The correlation between the states with the highest rates of child poverty and the highest lack of sex education, family planning and contraception availability never ceases to amaze me. It means that women are having children they are not prepared to support due to economic factors and lack of options in terms of education, prevention and abortion options. Wouldn't better sex education simply lead to lower rates of abortion? Apparently not. A pro-life (or anti-choice, whatever is preferred) activist states the connection between sex ed and abortion as follows: Sex Ed teaches students about contraception, which leads them want to prevent the "blessing of children," turning towards abortion when necessary. This argument dissolves into the imposition of the theological morality that sexual activity should inevitably result in children.
7. "Sex Education Teaches Kids How to Be Gay"
In the most outrageous argument of them all, traditional marriage advocates have equated comprehensive sex education with the promotion of the “homosexual lifestyle.” If we follow the logic of the argument that sexual activity should only occur between a married couple, this means that the possible changes to marriage laws in the United States will require schools to potentially be responsible for teaching students about safe and healthy homosexual relationships. In some states, the trend is leaning towards teaching young people age-appropriate information about homosexuality, which traditional marriage advocates have berated as promoting the “homosexual lifestyle” under the guide of understanding human sexual diversity. The hundreds of impassioned comments from parents calling for a "civil war" if schools teach about homosexuality are evidence of the emotional power of this argument.
Whatever our thoughts on sex education, Americans have to admit that there is a legitimate problem in terms of lack of sex education and high birth rates. We provide very few resources for students to learn to be safe, yet we vilify teen mothers for getting pregnant and draining the resources of the state, while highlighting the lives of others on shows like Teen Mom (MTV) and 16 and Pregnant (MTV). What's your take on these arguments? How would you argue back?