“There is probably no subject that has posed greater headaches to teachers than sex education,” writes Jonathan Zimmerman in his new book, Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education.
“And no other topic illustrates the complexity and emotion that lies at the heart of the debates about parental, local, and federal control over education,” writes Jessica Lahey in What Schools Should Teach Kids About Sex.
In many U.S. districts — and around the world — students get “a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings about putting them to use,” writes Zimmerman, an NYU professor of history and education.
I learned in sex-ed movies that teens only have sex because of peer pressure. Nobody really wants it.
Young people can go online to sites such as Scarleteen.com, which has drawn 1 billion users since its launch in 2006, notes Lahey. Here are popular recent questions.
Learning about reproductive biology isn’t enough, sex advice columnist Dan Savage tells Lahey.
We should be teaching the real things that can trip people up, things that can ruin people’s lives or traumatize them, like what is and isn’t consent, and what is and isn’t on the menu, and what are you or are you not comfortable with, and how do you advocate for yourself, and how do you draw someone out and solicit their active consent so that you don’t accidentally traumatize someone? We need to talk about sex for pleasure, which is 99.99 percent of the sex that people have, and that’s 99.99 percent of what’s not covered …
Savage analogized the state of sex education today to a driver’s education class that focuses exclusively on the mechanics of the internal combustion engine, with no mention of brakes, steering, red lights, and stop signs. “That’s sex ed in America. We hand kids the keys to the car, and when they drive straight into walls, we say, ‘See? See? If we’d only kept them a little more ignorant, this wouldn’t be happening!’”
Diversity makes it harder for people to agree about how to teach about sex, says Zimmerman. Values vary. Globalization doesn’t mean liberalization, he writes in a New York Times commentary. “Globalization has served to curtail rather than expand school-based sexual instruction.”