Why The Hostility to Sex Education?

Spawned from this thread.

A few people mentioned the US is quite hostile to sex education. Is this a widespread attitude, or is it just a very vocal minority?

Also, on what grounds do they oppose it?

Moving this to Great Debates.

It’s a small but very vocal minority, and the reasons are almost always religious, usually on the basis that it will encourage kids to have sex or that it’s just not right to talk about that stuff to kids. [Something tells me this is headed for GD. And on preview, I’m right!]

To say the US is opposed to sex education is misleading. Even many people who probably don’t like the idea support ‘abstinence-only’ sex ed, meaning instructors can’t tell kids any details or talk about how to make sex safer, only the obvious-but-pointless truism that only abstinence is 100% safe. Prepare for a parade of analogies on both sides of this argument; the whole topic is controversial and this bit in particular.

Anyway, like I said, the US itself is not opposed to sex education; some people in it are. I had varying forms of sex ed in elementary school (short programs in 5th and 6th grade), junior high school (half a year), and high school (half a year). I think you’ll find that most people who went to public schools had a comparable experience. Private schools can be different, and whether that education was any good is a whole other thing.

I think that the typical mindset in the US is that information about sex should be taught by the parents. The unfortunate by product of this is that most US parents feel very uncomfortable talking about this, probably because sex is still something that is considered “taboo” to discusss. So parents put it off, and put it off… until the kid is forced to learn about it on his own (which may or may not give the kid all the important information he needs) which leads to kids trying sex before they are ready.

This brings us back to your issue. US Schools try to deal with the problem of teen pregnancy, STD’s etc… by providing sex education classes.

And so the cycle continues.

On that note, I should add that my parents did talk to me about sex a little bit.

The flip side of this is that most kids don’t want to hear their parents talk about sex. My mother gave me a pack of condoms when I was about 16, and it was mortifying- partly because I knew it was unnecessary, as the timid girl I was dating would never have sex with me.

I attended Catholic school, where we didn’t even get Sex Ed (under the guise of Health class) until we were seniors…more than a few years too late for quite a few of us…the only difference between Catholic school and public school really being that Catholic school readily touts religious guidelines for thier anti-sex sex ed, while public schools follow the “encouraged” governmental guidelines of who our leader is at the time.
Still doesn’t explain why, huh? Especially when we have nifty things like seperation of church and state. For a glimpse of Americans’ love-hate relationship with sex, look at the Janet Jackson/Super Bowl Boobie Blowout. People freaked over it - the media hyping the story didn’t help matters - screaming “how am I gonna explain this to my child???” Yet the 436 ads for Enzyte during that same program were easy to raise a family discussion about?

If sex is suggested, implied, glossed over, or otherwise not addressed in a direct matter, it’s fine, feed it to the kiddies. If its addressed in a direct, thoughtful, intellectual and realistic manner, than NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO you’re encouraging our kids to have SEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEXXXXXXXX and you’re right out, especially in the educational system.

I personally blame this on our held-over Puritain ethics and the lumbering monstrosity that is the religious right in this country. The parents that think the schools are there to educate and disipline their children - but not about sex and don’t you dare think about punishing the little darlings - are giving any politician that wants to institute educational policy on morality a free pass.
To sum up (your milage may vary by state, another variable in the equation): The kids grow up watching sexual innuendo of almost every flavor on TV. The parents are too busy or squeemish to teach their kids about sex, so they figure the schools will handle it. But the schools are under pressure to teach abstinence only, so the kids aren’t getting the information (or the protection) they will need when the hormones start ragin’. You end up with kids that think they know what they’re talking about, except no one has given them a straight answer on pregnancy, disease, contraception (the big evil), et. al.

Bad analogy time: we’re a nation of meat eaters that are teaching our kids in school to be vegetarians. We waive tender steaks and chops in front of them on TV constantly, and their mouth waters, but we tell them they have to stay a vegetarian until they’re married. And then we wonder why more kids are sucking on beef tips and then spitting them out.

(Sorry for the ramble, this topic is a pet peeve of mine)

From what you’re saying, it sounds like there isn’t a huge difference in attitudes to sex education between the US & UK, but those who are opposed to it have vastly more political clout in the US. I think it’s one of those issues where politicians are aware it’s much easier for them to lose votes than to gain them, so they keep quiet and hope the problem will go away.

Do they have to watch TV? These deginirate media images aren’t just a fact of life; parents can forbid their children from participating in pop-culture altogether. They can’t as easily forbid their kids from going to school, though.

I think it’s misleading to say the US is hostile to sex ed. Individuals and certain groups, perhaps. It’s all still ultimately up to the parents, though. If the school isn’t doing whatever it is you think it should do in that department, you should fill in the facts, and provide the moral guidance you deem appropriate.

I’m going back a ways, but in my youth we not only had explicit sex education in the public school, but the Presbyterian church I attended had a sex ed portion of the youth program. We were advised that sex was a wonderful gift to be used responsibly. Very simple.

How? (Short of living in a mountain hut in Montana)

It’s not just TV that forces pop culture onto us - everything from billboards to sports advertising to peer pressure does the same.

Not only that, but sometimes even well-intentioned parents aren’t up on all the details.

My mom had absolutely no issue with having her kids receive sex ed in school; in fact, when I had Round #1 (in 5th grade), she came in to school that day to sit in and see what material was being presented, and how. She was shocked to realize she really was not up on the biological side of human reproduction at all. The more advanced version, which we got in high school, included stuff on what hormones are doing what at what point in a woman’s cycle, which STDs have what symptoms, etc., which would really have left her in the dust.

We also had some very frank discussions of the effectiveness of various methods of contraception, which I remember only dimly (as my own need for that info was highly theoretical at the time). All in all, I think my public school district did a bang-up job (pun intended). But then the town where I grew up was a quite socially liberal university town. Things vary quite a lot by geographic area, urban/rural split, etc., which is sometimes an unfortunate effect of having decentralized curriculum planning in the U.S.

Just some background info; here’s the official guidelines for sex education in England, for 11-14 year olds (note that parents do have the option to withdraw their kids from these classes, but very few do):

In Personal social and health education, they should learn to:

and in Science, they should learn:

Oh yeah, that was from here: http://www.nc.uk.net/index.html

I was unable to resist reproducing this post: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showpost.php?p=4887684&postcount=96

Not that it says anything useful.

That’s right. Even people who are supposedly hostile to sex ed often don’t object to the sex education per se, but to the content, the manner in which it is taught, and the age at which it is taught. Needless to say, there is a wide range of views on this topic.

I think a little bit of the hostility toward sex ed comes from the “I don’t want my baby to grow up yet” attitude: teaching sex ed to children is seen as destroying their childhood innocence, moving them one big irrevocable step closer to adulthood.

But the main thing is that people’s deeply held values (religious and otherwise) regarding sex differ, and people are going to be upset if the values and attitudes that children are exposed to in sex ed classes differ from the ones they hold and want children to be taught. (For example, no matter what attitude the teacher takes toward homosexuality—whether it is or is not as “normal” and healthy as heterosexuality—you’re going to find plenty of people who vehemently disagree, and who say “It isn’t the school’s business to be teaching our kids values that run counter to the ones we hold and want to teach them.”) Even a sex-ed class that tries to be “value-neutral” risks giving the impression that sex itself is value-neutral.

Also, the way sex ed is taught can have a significant effect, positive or negative, on things like how sexually active teens will be, how “safe” their sex will be, how vulnerable they are to sexual predators—at least, we think it has a significant effect, otherwise why bother teaching it at all. Unfortunately the jury is still out on which kinds of sex-ed have which effects, and which ones perhaps do more harm than good.

Catholic countries in South America also are pretty iffy about sex Ed. The vatican being quite responsible for some of it. Its a cultural thing for sure.

I think its just more politicized in the US… whilst its been kept under blankets mostly here.

I think a lot of the former enemies of sex education in schools have now become proponents of “Abstinence Only” curriculum.

An interesting study on the topic can be found here (warning: PDF file), and an article summarizing it can be found here.

I grew up on PBS because my mom didn’t want me watching something as racy as Three’s Company. I also knew a few very sad kids who had parents that didn’t even own a TV for “moral” reasons. Even in the 80’s, before there were 8 cable channels devoted to kids programming, a kid at least needed to know what was up with the Saturday morning cartoons to escape feeling like a total nerd. And I still managed to catch quite a few Three’s Company episodes behind mom’s back.

Sure, with a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and limitless imagination and patience, you can extract your kids from popular culture. However they will still get older, still get interested in sex, and despite your best efforts, will still manage to expose themselves to the same dreck you’re trying to protect them from. Wouldn’t it be much easier to sit down with your kids and have a mature, responsible conversation about sex, working up to your views on how sexuality in pop culture?

Yes, the schools are hurting kids by only teaching what our politicians will allow them to. But the fault lies with the parents - their words will mean more than any sex ed teacher’s will. Since parents won’t talk, the kids are left to the educational mercy of politicians who don’t want to appear that they’re promoting premarital sex.

Just a couple or three quick observations that may not be all that helpful.

There seem to be a common misconception that sex education is some sort of how-to class for copulation, like wood-working and industrial education. There was a Monty python skit along these lines. That misconception horrifies many people. If it were true it would be perfectly appropriate for public school patrons to be up at arms. However, it isn’t true.

The sudden popularity of home schooling is in no small degree connected to the misconception that sex education courses are hands on instruction in promiscuous fornication.

When I left home to go to college in 1960 my father, a physician, decided that we needed to have The Talk. It was pretty short. “You know,” he said, “penicillin doesn’t cure every thing.” “Yea,” I said. “Best keep it in your pants,” he said. That was it. I knew about STDs from biology, a discussion of pseudo-syphilis in hogs. Of course this was all before the Pill and the Sexual Revolution, so back then maybe it was enough. It sure isn’t enough today and hasn’t been for some time now.