Luckily for me, I grew up in sensibly secular Canada. Sex education was a mandatory part of Physical Education, which, in the province of Ontario, is a required credit for a high school diploma. Phys Ed was a ninth-grade course, so at the tender age of 14, high school freshmen learn a few things about sex.
The basic mechanics of it were fairly straightforward. By the time we entered high school, most kids my age already knew a fair bit about sex. There were probably a few in the class who were sexually active, but at that age, I would call it a fair bet that most of my classmates were probably sitting firmly at third base, if that.
Still, there was useful information to glean from Sex Ed. We got to see nasty pictures of terrifying diseases. We learned how all the parts work (not that I can honestly still remember what my vas deferens does, but no matter). Most importantly though, we learned about contraception and disease prevention. Abstinence was taught as one of the methods to protect yourself, but it was never implied that taking that route was morally superior. Trained volunteers even demonstrated how to roll a condom onto erotic vegetables.
Did I come out of that class behaving any differently than I had before? Not really. It was still another year or two before I finally got laid. But I did come out with a sense of normalcy about it.
Fast forward one year.
My Jewish youth group (hey, I wasn't born an atheist) had held that year's International Convention in Toronto. Of course, being a hormone-addled 15-year-old, I spent the entire time chatting up every single nice Jewish girl and her chest.
One girl that I had really started to fall for was this stunning blonde cheerleader from Alabama. She's actually one of the smartest people that I've met, but I didn't really know that at the time. Her name wasn't actually Sophie, but since there's a good chance that she'll feature in some more personal stories, she's going to have to remain Sophie as far as you people are concerned.
After she convinced me that she wasn't joking, there actually are Jewish people in Alabama, we actually started to hit it off. While I never worked up the courage to make a move while she was in Toronto, I did get her email address.
We kept in touch after she went home, talking on MSN nearly every night. It was only a matter of time before a conversation turned to sex. Funny how that happens when you're 15 and thinking about it constantly, eh? When I told her about my school's Sex Education sub-course the previous year, she was absolutely floored.
"Your teacher actually advocated condom use? If that happened here, they'd be fired so fast!"
I was stunned. To me, Abstinence-only sex education was something you read about, a policy that mythical fundamentalists in a far-off land taught their spawn. Yet while my classmates were learning how to play safe when the clothes came off, her classmates were instead taking a class-wide abstinence pledge.
She was as appalled as I was. She could barely believe that we Canadians, who I had always considered to be a fairly middle-of-the-pack bunch, were amazing enough to adopt such a progressive policy as teaching young adults how to safely do something that they're going to do anyway.
I was going to try and conclude with something profound and thought-provoking, but it's past 5:30am, and I'm fucking tired. Just roll that around in your head for a minute. Having your education determined by religious doctrine isn't something that happens to someone else. It happened to Sophie.
Update: Hours after writing this, I find this article in the Schenectady Gazette, via Salon.com. Turns out, there's a classroom's worth of parents who are outraged by the way their grade 7/8 snowflakes are being taught Sex Ed. They're mobilizing the suburban mommy militia, and taking torch and pitchfork to the school district administration.
The crime? While teaching students the facts about sex, the curriculum actually acknowledged the fact that we have body parts that can give pleasurable feelings. Masturbation was even mentioned!
When will school administrators realize? If we don't tell them that it can feel good, they're not going to find out! It's that simple. A doctor said so:
Dr. Michael Rochet, a physician, said the school district should search for alternatives for Planned Parenthood programming because he believes the instruction will facilitate curiosity among students. [emphasis mine]
“It will lead to more sexual activity,” he said.
Rochet said he wants parents and educators to get together and work on a program for the coming school year that can be molded to the community’s needs, as opposed to taking on programming of an organization that’s already developed.
“We don’t have to follow everybody else. Let’s lead the pack,” Rochet said.
In an effort to ensure parents would have a say in their children’s participation, the district issued forms so that parents could decide to have their children excluded from the instruction.
Here's why they should not have this option: their children will have sex. If not now - they are in middle school - then in a few years. It's a fact. Especially in Montgomery County, where the teen birth rate is the second-highest of any in New York state.
Teen birth is a greater policy issue, but it's not the reason the course should be obligatory. Disease is. If teens have a baby, their life is ruined. If someone passes on a sexually-transmitted disease, it has endangered the health and well-being of everyone within six degrees of sexual separation. For the same reason that schools can mandate vaccinations against Polio and Co,
it has a duty to mandate Sex Ed as an innoculation against stupidity. A student with Polio would be a danger to the school at large; so too, the student who might be imbued with the wond'rous gift of herpes.
Teach them when they're young, so when they start, they won't be idiots.