So there's been a few things in the news this week about sex education. Last Sunday, Ross Douthat had a thoughtful editorial in the NY Times that (I think rightly) points out that much of the battle over what is effective is a disguise for "a battle over community values"--or personal values. Much chatter ensued.
Then on Tuesday, the Washington Post ran a story provocatively headlined, Abstinence-only programs might work, study says. There really should have been an asterisk after the headline. People jumped all over this, but the upshot was that this abstinence-only program wasn't what most people think of when they think of abstinence-only programs. "Ms. Brown noted that the abstinence-only classes in the Jemmott study centered on people with an average age of 12 and that unlike the federally supported abstinence programs now in use, did not advocate abstinence until marriage," it says VERY late in an article in the NY Times.
The thing I keep missing in all these discussions is any mention of how to help parents share their own values with their kids. What I'd love to see are programs for parents while their kids are in elementary school--not while their kids are in the heat of hormonal fury.
I remember with what trepidation I went to a workshop called Holy Hormones at the 2005 Earl Lecture series, Sex and the City of God. I still remember with what vehemence I insisted on bringing the workshop leaders to our parish to present--not to the kids, but to the adults.
The primary thing this workshop made me realize is our very paltry and limited our definition of sex education--indeed, sexuality--often is. Sex education for parents is about so much more than telling kids, "Don't have sex! (but if you are, here's how to do so safely)." The presenters had us asking ourselves, what's the right age for a person to see an R-rated movie? Shave their legs? Wear make-up? And then ask at what age we did those things?
There's also a curriculum for youth that I never used, called Love--all that and more, which sounds very good.
But the main thing for me is that I don't think we do enough in any area of society to help adults articulate what they have learned about sex and sexuality, and then what they would like their children to know. I wish there were a lot more of that. It's so ironic that we call teaching about sex "the facts of life" when the huge bulk of it isn't factual at all, is it? The basics are pretty simple, but the truth is--well, wow, a mass of culture, mixed messages, and the unknown.
Then, of course, you could always get the friendly school nurse to make things clear.