Sex education

Is this OK? What about this? Still OK?

Students at the Urban School of San Francisco attended a forum on affirmative consent. Photo: Noah Berger, New York Times

New rules for “affirmative consent” are complicating sex education classes, reports the New York Times. In San Francisco, 10th graders were surprised to learn they need a “yes” for every step of a sexual relationship to meet the “yes means yes” standard.

Consent from the person you are kissing — or more — is not merely silence or a lack of protest, Shafia Zaloom, a health educator at the Urban School of San Francisco, told the students. They listened with rapt attention, but several did not disguise how puzzled they felt.

“What does that mean — you have to say ‘yes’ every 10 minutes?” asked Aiden Ryan, 15, who sat near the front of the room.

“Pretty much,” Ms. Zaloom answered. “It’s not a timing thing, but whoever initiates things to another level has to ask.”

California requires high schools to teach about “yes means yes,” but the standard only applies to college disciplinary panels. It doesn’t affect criminal prosecutions — or Californians who aren’t college students.

Other states are considering similar legislation for colleges, reports the Times.

In San Francisco, the private school students brainstormed ways to ask for consent.

They crossed off a list of options: “Can I touch you there?” Too clinical. “Do you want to do this?” Too tentative. “Do you like that?” Not direct enough.

“They’re all really awkward and bizarre,” one girl said.

“You good?” was the best they came up with.

California’s law is “terrible,” Vox’s Ezra Klein tells the Los Angeles Times. But he supports it because “men need to feel a cold spike of fear when they begin a sexual encounter.”

One in five college women report an attempted or completed sexual assault, says Klein.

Of course, that requires defining “sexual assault” very broadly. Unwelcome sexual contact is very common. If “yes every 10 minutes means yes” becomes the standard, four out of five students will be victims of nonconsensual sexual activity.

Defining all drunken sex as nonconsensual will take that even higher. It’s not what the law says, notes Hans Bader, but it’s where it’s going.

A “yes” can be withdrawn without a clear “no” under affirmative consent theory, points out Megan McArdle. Nobody could be “fully sure that they were not breaking the law.”

Until now, college has been seen as place to experiment with alcohol, drugs and sex. (And ideas.) The “cold winter” already has set in. Now, sex is dangerous — and not in a fun way — especially for males.

“It’s as if George Orwell’s Junior Anti-Sex League has occupied feminism,” said Christina Hoff Sommers.

What’s up with sex ed?

Sex education varies on where you live, says John Oliver. He’s got a clip of a young Jonathan Banks (the ex-cop on Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul) learning that menstruation improves a girl’s bowling skills. Modern sex ed has its problems too, he argues.

Mom: Kids get ‘terror-based sex ed’

Alice Dreger, a sex researcher, sat in on her ninth-grader son’s sex education class, she writes in The Stranger. It wasn’t supposed to be “abstinence-only” sex ed, but sex was depicted as shameful and birth control as so unreliable as to be pointless, she found.  It was “terror-based sex education.”

A P.E. teacher supervised while visiting speakers told students that sex leads to “consequences” — always bad ones.

“Jerry” said he’d started using alcohol and drugs at a young age, then got his girlfriend pregnant when her birth control failed. After 11 years of drug abuse and failure, he met a beautiful, abstinent girl, wooed her chastely, married her and then fathered two children. “If you find one who says ‘no,’ that’s the one you want,” Jerry told the students.

. . . we had learned that sex is associated with drug abuse, drug overdose, disease, unwanted pregnancy—pretty much every horror you can name except shingles and Lawrence Welk.

And that good girls say “no,” and you don’t want you no slut who says “yes.”

The other visiting speaker, “Ms. Thomas,” warned that “it takes only one act of sex to get pregnant.”

I wanted to raise my hand and blurt out, “Not if it’s anal or oral!”

She moved on to a “game.” The game involved everyone getting a number from one to six. She rolled the dice. If your number came up, your condom failed. But your condom didn’t just fail. A pregnancy resulted. And from the pregnancy came a baby. When your number came up, you raised your hand and Ms. Thomas handed you a paper baby.

It took all my willpower not to go up to the regular teacher at this point and ask if there weren’t some scissors in his desk we could use to hand around for paper abortions to prevent all these unwanted paper babies. But I didn’t. Within a few minutes, the entire class was preggers. Even the boys.

In “a progressive school district in a liberal college town,” students are taught to fear sex, Dreger complains.

Sex ed: Too hot to handle?

“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, 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.”

Sex Ed in the age of Rihanna

Schools are struggling to teach sex ed in the Internet Age, writes Alexandra Sifferlin in Time. Students are exposed to just about everything online.

In “the normally progressive Bay Area city of Fremont, California,” parents campaigned to remove the ninth-grade sex ed book, Your Health Today, she writes. Originally written for college students, the book includes “a how-to for asking partners if they’ve been tested for STDs, a debate on legalizing prostitution” and advice on bondage games.

 “[One] kind of sex game is bondage and discipline, in which restriction of movement (e.g. using handcuffs or ropes) or sensory deprivation (using blindfolds or masks) is employed for sexual enjoyment. Most sex games are safe and harmless, but partners need to openly discuss and agree beforehand on what they are comfortable doing.”

Teri Topham doesn’t want her daughter “debating with other 13-year-olds how well the adult film industry is practicing safe sex.”

Asfia Ahmed, who has eight and ninth grade boys, complains the book “assumes the audience is already drinking alcohol, already doing drugs, already have multiple sexual partners.”

Fremont has many immigrant families from a variety of conservative cultures.

But school board members believe ninth graders should discuss in school what they’re seeing online.

The singer Rihanna, for example, has legions of young fans. Her music video for the song “S&M”—viewed more than 57 million times on YouTube so far—shows the artist, pig-tied and writhing, cooing “chains and whips excite me.” It then cuts to her using a whip on men and women with mouths covered in duct tape.

Sex is part of our culture, says Lara Calvert-York, president of the Fremont school board. “Highly qualified, credentialed teachers . . . know how to have those conversations. Because a lot of parents don’t know how to have that conversation when they’re sitting next to their kids and it comes up in a TV show.”

The board shelved the book — for a year — to consider the parents’ complaints.

A national sample study of 1,500 10 to 17-year-olds showed that about half of those that use the Internet had been exposed to online porn in the last year, writes Sifferlin.

How do you learn appropriateness and consent in a culture where Beyoncé’s song about pleasuring a guy in a car is championed by some as feminist and others as lewd? Or where Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” can refer to violent sexual acts in a music video viewed on the web at least 36 million times? . . . Or where primetime TV shows—the kind you often watch with your family—not infrequently make reference to anal sex?

A significant minority of teens are sexting suggestive photos to each other.

Yet actual sexual intercourse waits for the late teens, for most young people. The average boy is 16.9 years old when he has his first sexual experience, say researchers. The average for girls is 17.4 years old.

Some want to move sex ed online, writes Sifferlin. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy has developed to discuss contraception. Teens can check out a variety of sites —, GoAskAlice!, — or view YouTube videos such as Laci Green’s Sex Object BS.


Too much information?

poster listing sex acts isn’t appropriate for 13-year-olds, says a Missouri father. The school says it’s part of the sex education curriculum.

’16 and Pregnant’ informs — or not

The reality show 16 and Pregnant  encourages teen viewers to work harder to avoid pregnancy, according to a study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

. . . teenage viewers tended to look up information about sex in order to better prepare for it. The paper estimates that the shows have helped to reduce overall teenage pregnancy by 5.7 percent since soon after they began running.

Well, maybe not, reports Ed Week.

And yet less than a week before NBER released its study, researchers at Indiana University Bloomington and the University of Utah released a different study of the same shows and found that they actually lead to greater numbers of misinformed teens, who watch “Teen Mom” and think that teenage motherhood is like like living on Easy Street.

“Heavy viewing of teen mom reality programming positively predicted unrealistic perceptions of what it is like to be a teen mother,” they wrote. The study based its conclusions off of interviews with 185 high school students about perceptions of reality TV and teen pregnancy.

Teen Mom made Farrah Abraham a celebrity, the second study complains. Now 22, Abraham is earning a living through a sex tape with a porn star, a line of sex toys, etc. You might say she’s a professional slut. Will that look like an attractive lifestyle to teen girls? I certainly hope not.

Should public schools teach 13-year-olds about grinding?

Americans agree on God, country and sex ed

Nine out of 10 Americans agree on a few things, according to pollsters, reports AP.  Nearly all believe in God, country and teaching sex education in public schools. More than 90 percent:

—admire those who get rich by working hard.

—think society should ensure everyone has equal opportunity to succeed.

—think it’s important to get more than a high school education.

Americans also believe it’s their duty to always vote, though voter turnout doesn’t reflect that.

U.S. rule makes every student a sex harasser

John asks Mary for a date. She says no. The request was unwelcome, so he’s a sexual harasser. Professor Smith discusses the risk of HIV transmission through anal sex, making one of his 500 students uncomfortable. He’s a sexual harasser. Just about everyone on campus is guilty of sexual harassment under rules set out May 9 by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education, charges the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).

The University of Montana’s mishandling of sexual assault charges — assault, not jokes — triggered a Letter of Findings and Resolution Agreement intended to be “a blueprint for colleges and universities throughout the country.”  The DOJ and DOE declared that sexual harassment should be defined as “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct” (speech).

It then explicitly states that allegedly harassing expression need not even be offensive to an “objectively reasonable person of the same gender in the same situation”—if the listener takes offense to sexually related speech for any reason, no matter how irrationally or unreasonably, the speaker may be punished.

Without a “reasonable person” standard, anyone can silence anyone else by claiming to be offended. FIRE lists some “forms of expression now punishable on America’s campuses by order of the federal government.”

 Any expression related to sexual topics that offends any person. This leaves a wide range of expressive activity—a campus performance of “The Vagina Monologues,” a presentation on safe sex practices, a debate about sexual morality, a discussion of gay marriage, or a classroom lecture on Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita—subject to discipline.

Any sexually themed joke overheard by any person who finds that joke offensive for any reason.

Any request for dates or any flirtation that is not welcomed by the recipient of such a request or flirtation.

Colleges and university that take federal funds — nearly all of them — must try to enforce the rule. “The federal government has put colleges and universities in an impossible position with this mandate,” said FIRE’s Greg Lukianoff. “The DOJ and DOE have doomed American campuses to years of confusion and expensive lawsuits.” And the federal letter misquoted a Supreme Court opinion to mandate an unconstitutional rule, he added.

Punishment may be required before a disciplinary hearing, writes Hans Bader, citing the letter of findings.

a university must take immediate steps to protect the complainant from further harassment prior to the completion of the Title IX and Title IV investigation/resolution. Appropriate steps may include separating the accused harasser and the complainant, providing counseling for the complainant and/or harasser, and/or taking disciplinary action against the harasser.

It appears that zero tolerance extends from sexual speech and dating requests to speech about the transgendered, writes Bader. “Gender-based harassment” is defined as “non-sexual harassment of a person because of the person’s sex and/or gender, including, but not limited to, harassment based on the person’s nonconformity with gender stereotypes.”

In a 2001 case, Saxe v. State College Area School District, an evangelical Christian successfully challenged a harassment policy that “forbade certain criticisms of homosexuality,” Bader writes.

If Saxe is kaput, any discussion of homosexuality could be banned. Mary speaks up for gay rights. John says her speech is unwelcome, gender-based verbal conduct that he finds offensive. He doesn’t have to be a “reasonable person” to make her guilty of harassment. Of course, she’s offended by the fact that he’s offended, so he’s a sexual harasser once again.

Update: Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor, has more on federally mandated speech codes.