Thursday, December 9, 2010

Proverbs 22:6.

Something that seems to get lost in a lot of discussions on sex ed: sex ed is not just for children and teenagers. It's for future adults. It seems like there's a lot of talk about what a fourteen-year-old needs to know, and not about what a person will eventually need to know. A lot of statistics and speculation about teenage sexual activities and STDs and pregnancy, and not enough about these things in the general population.

High school isn't about learning to be fourteen years old. Most kids show up already knowing how to listen to terrible music and sleep until 3pm on weekends. Why teach a fourteen-year-old biology or trigonometry when the only job a fourteen-year-old is likely to have is burger-flipping? Because you're not teaching the fourteen-year-old; you're teaching the future thirty-year-old doctor or architect.

(Digression: I really wish schools did more to teach for adulthood in general. I'd gladly have given up a semester of Western Civ to have had a class on "how to find a job and an apartment" or "how to treat minor illnesses and when to see a doctor." There's a place for high-minded well-rounded education and I don't want to be one of those dicks who asks "when am I ever gonna need to know about stupid old ancient Greece?", but I'd gladly sacrifice a little bit of Greece to get in a couple hours of lecture and discussion on "how to tell if something is a scam.")

And sex, as it so often turns out, isn't some sort of special case. When you teach a fourteen-year-old how to put on a condom or what consent means, you're teaching a twenty-year-old. And a thirty-year-old. They may not look it right now, but when you teach sex ed to a bunch of immature teenagers, you're teaching college students, married people, parents, police officers, journalists, legislators, and sex ed teachers. You're telling them things they'll remember, and maybe still rely on, when they're a bunch of fifty-year-olds.

You wanna stick "all you need to know right now is abstinence" on them?

P.S.: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it." I didn't want to make the actual quote the title because I didn't like the "he" language but felt it would be artificial to remove it, but now you don't have to look it up.


  1. Do what I do when confronted with that particular gender pronoun, and change it to (s)he.

  2. Bob - That looks all awkward though. In my own usage I just use the singular "they," but I just couldn't inflict that on the Bible.

  3. "Ze" might work.

    And thank you for this post; it says exactly what I want to say about my problems with "Sex ed" these days. (I, personally, learned from my mom...and when I went beyond what she could teach me, I went on the internet. My school did NOTHING for me. Or my peers. Which may be why my high school had such a high teen pregnancy rate.)


    I phrased this in a piece of my artwork ( as "when you think of the children, think of the adults they will become."

  5. Please don't inflict "ze" on us(zus?).

    Very good point, Holly.

  6. I never had sex ed, which says enough right there. I might've had the course but I was busy skipping school too much to actually attend, I don't know.

    What I do know is that my mother tried to teach me bout sex in the most well rounded way possible. She taught me about being safe, she taught me about finding partners, she taught me about kink, she taught me about masturbation, she taught me about one night stands, friends with benefits and relationships. She taught me a lot about sex and I'm grateful for that.

    We're going to ignore the fact that now that I'm older and actually putting her methods into practice, there's starting to be contention between us because it's one thing to teach and another to practice but I like to think that her intentions were good.

  7. You could pluralize the whole phrase:
    "Train children in the way they should go: and when they are old, they will not depart from it."

    Avoids both gendered pronouns and the awkward singular "they".

  8. But then you're still drastically changing the quote. Not the point or the message, but the actual quote itself. Which defeats the whole point, doesn't it?

  9. I had Catholic school sex ed, which did tell you what you were supposed to do sexually for the rest of your life: get married and have children, unless you have "same-sex attraction," in which case you should be celibate.

    Also, second the idea of a life-skills class. I've actually been thinking about it for some time trying to come up with a syllabus for it.

  10. @Holly,

    Your post angers me because it reminds me of everything that I find abhorrent about public education here in the US. The PTA and government battles between left and right, practicality and abstinence, anti-choice (because even if it is pro-life, it's anti-choice, period) and pro-choice, have screwed things up for the people the system is supposed to serve: future adults.

    When I was in middle school and starting to wake up to the presence of women (oh, those were glorious times, but so confusing), I would have given almost anything to know more than just the existence of the clitoris, the penis, the vagina, etc. I was curious and there was no one I could ask: how do you START having sex? What do you SAY to a girl? What do bodies my age look like, as opposed to the hyperreal simulacra of television and Hollywood and Playboy?

    Instead, children and teenagers are treated like... I dunno, fragile non-persons with no agency or intelligence whatsoever. They are fragile, in the sense that that anything they find strange or mysterious or even frightening will damage them; they are non-persons in that their needs don't matter (except insofar as they meet the demands of a hyperreal narrative of childhood); and they have no agency because they're not permitted to decide for THEMSELVES what they find scary or uncomfortable, and they're not permitted to learn about it.

    Granted: there ARE limits! Children are naive and inexperienced, which means they need to know things like "Don't talk to strangers" and "Don't eat pre-opened candy" and whatnot. But you can't just give them the rules: when they as why, TELL THEM!

    "Why shouldn't I talk to strangers?"
    "Because there are people out there who want to take advantage of you, or hurt you, or kidnap you, or do other things to you."
    "Because some people are that way to begin with, and sometimes they become that way."
    "Because the human brain, with hormones and neurotransmitters, is a complicated thing."
    "What the heck does THAT mean?"

    Try to explain -- if the child can't get it, they'll either become bored or frustrated. Who knows, you might trigger a thirst for knowledge. *gasp*

    But US society goes so far BEYOND what is necessary and practical that it boggles my mind. Instead, they quibble over whether or not children should have ACCESS to information, and all because there's some hyperreal narrative out there of what childhood SHOULD be like.

    They quibble over whether or not teenagers should have access to condoms: God forbid they should have some ounce of lust or agency. [sarcasm]Obviously, if they do, you're doing something wrong.[/sarcasm]

    Gets me mad just thinking about it.

  11. I'm sure there's a translation that's gender-neutral.

    Because clearly that's the most important part of the post.

  12. Amazing post. You have an incredible way to write things!

  13. Anon - I share your rage. Hell, I can barely wrap my head around a lot of what we consider "disciplining" children--I understand they have to be taught not to do dangerous or inconsiderate things, but the idea that it's okay to teach this through humiliation, intimidation, or (gahh, people will publicly support this) physical pain just horrifies me. I mean, how fucked are we as a society when we rule that it's okay to hit children if you don't leave marks? If I was late to work and my boss hit me, I sure as hell wouldn't get "eh, I don't see any marks, so she was just teaching you something you needed to learn" when I filed my police report.

    I know I'm an extremist here, but the idea of "grounding" really scares me too. Being told you can't communicate with your friends and can't engage in any enjoyable activities seems like a massive punishment, something that would drive me to extreme anxiety and probably destructive behavior within about five days if someone did it to me as an adult. It also seems straight out of those classic signs of domestic abuse. And yet we treat it like a reasonable punishment to impose for minor infractions.

    I'm aware some of this is my personal hangups. And some of it is because I had it kind of bad as a kid. And frankly it's why I'm probably not going to have kids, at least not anytime soon. People ask me "are you afraid of continuing the cycle of abuse?" and I'm not, but I'm afraid of the opposite. My kid would ask to have ice cream for dinner and my reaction would be "oh good, she's being assertive about her desires. Chocolate or vanilla, honey?"

  14. And yeah, to get back on topic, the idea that teenagers aren't allowed to have sex, that consensual protected teenage sex is some sort of infraction or failure. Again I can't help projecting my adult self on a different time, but if someone barged into my bedroom and forbade me from having sex with my own boyfriend I'd be anguished. Not "I'm rebellious and selfish" anguished, either. More like "I have a need for physical and emotional intimacy" anguished.

  15. @Fnord: The pluralization of the quote is how the NIV does it (see link):

    Start children off on the way they should go,
    and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

  16. In the time the Bible was written people were extremely sexist, and they were thinking of a boy becoming a man. If I turn it to "ze" or "he or she" or whatnot, it's not a Bible quote anymore.

  17. Simple solution: Don't worry about quoting the bible accurately, it probably isn't anyway. ;)

    Re: sex ed, ah, yes, my personal pet project. My post here: relates somewhat, although you touched on a point that I think I forgot to mention, that simply, it's not for the kids that they are, it's for the ADULTS that they'll BECOME.

    But of course, you know, that small minority that is super vocal about not allowing condoms in schools and blah blah blah, would be just as happy to say that adults shouldn't have pre-marital sex either, that all sex should be for procreation, and that anything that strays from that makes you a horrible, horrible person. They often don't say it outright (cause that would be bad publicity and people would get on to their scheming ways!) in the most public arguments that make the news.. They don't want to necessarily publicize that their arguments are not "for the children!" at ALL, it's an anti-sex and strongly socially conservative grab at controlling EVERYONE's sexuality...

    But most abstinence-only curriculum actually IS straight forward about promoting that they don't think that pre-marital sex is okay for ANYONE, not just teenagers.

  18. I disagree. I firmly believe that you'll never have better taste in music than you did when you were 14 or 15 or so. I've spent a good amount of time looking up bands that I used to like when I was a young teen, and realizing that, 'Hey-- they really were awesome!' I suspect that thinking of the music that kids are listening to these days as terrible is a sign of growing old. Which is scary, because I can't stand most of the crap that kids are listening to these days!

  19. I love the idea of more practical education in high schools. I think one thing that's desperately needed is a relevant, action-oriented civics class. It would teach kids there are some duties that go into being a citizen in a democracy -- like voting, but also reading the fucking newspaper, learning in-depth about candidates you're choosing between, subjecting the political messages you see on the news/TV ads to critical analysis, & how to contact your representatives or even protest if you object to what's happening. It would also teach what rights you should expect/demand as a citizen, and encourage ppl to question what the role of a good government should be. Right now it seems many people do neither -- they don't object when gov't wants to subject them to TSA strip-searches, or the Supreme Court picks out our president for us, but they also don't put the work in to being good citizens.

    Other high school classes I'd favor: Car repair, other basic home repairs/handyman stuff, home ec classes complete with basic cooking & sewing for everyone. Classes like these would prepare them much better for adult life -- as it is, a lot of young people are woefully lacking in real-world skills.

  20. In Canada, we have a mandatory high school civics half-credit course. I thought it was a good course to have, and was fairly informative, albeit not very in-depth since its only half of a course, but alot of people seemed not to care about any of it, unfortunately.

  21. While I think that there are some areas we disagree (as liberal as I think I am, you always make me surprise myself with my reactions to some of your ideas), this is not one of them. You hit the nail right on the head. So much of sex-ed is focused on the idea that these kids are so young. Well for one thing, no, given how young kids today are having sex, it's not like middle school sex ed is threatening the innocence of children. And while I of course don't think that things like the ins and outs of fetishes should be taught in middle and high school, you are completely right. Too often the focus is "oh but this is how old they are now, we can't tell them too much or they'll become perverts and ruin them!!" or "oh but this is how old they are now, they don't have to worry about this now."
    Even if abstinence-only education worked and was our actual goal, the "kids" are still going to grow up to be adults. Even if you're abstinent until marriage, when you get married you'd want to know more than just "and the penis goes into the vagina. and at ejaculation, sperm enters the vagina" type knowledge. Even now, at a liberal arts college, with really intelligent and open friends, I'll still get questions that just leave me completely slack-jawed at the ignorance shown. I still get questions about what a dental dam is, or how lesbians could even have safe sex. People don't understand things about STDs that I considered standard knowledge, people don't understand things about anatomy that I thought was obvious, people didn't understand a whole bunch of shit that I thought everyone knew. At first, I wondered if I just randomly befriended the most ignorant kids, then I realized almost none of the stuff I thought was so obvious was stuff I'd learned in sex ed. Sex ed didn't teach me anything useful except knowing that a lot of STDs are asymptomatic in guys, so just asking a partner you trust whether they're clean isn't enough, because they might not know themselves.

  22. Re: EEE and uni students

    This is what I've been thinking about the WHOLE TIME reading through the comments. I started college a year early and took a sexuality education course (at the time I was in the education track). I was the youngest, with everyone else being juniors and seniors. I can't tell you how many times students would raise their hands and say, "I never learned any of this. This is new and scary to me" or something. No exaggeration, EVERY SINGLE person in my class said their schools and parents either taught them nothing or taught abstinence, with no real substance (and almost everyone had gone to public school, and this uni was a state uni). My sex education in school wasn't GREAT, but it at least touched on stuff I consider very basic (and I had a cool, realistic teacher).

    My parents were very open with me about sex and love, even if they disapproved of me having it. So any question I asked, they'd answer openly and honestly to the best of their ability. The ignorance of my peers was astounding, and I'm depressed to this day that schools are still sending adults into the world with terrifying little (or incorrect) knowledge.

  23. Oh, and just to add: Because of classes like that, I took an active part in the GSA/GLBT safe sex activities and booths in that school for the time I was there (because apparently only GLBT students were open and brave enough at the time to hold open forums on sex, pass out condoms [rainbow colors!], dental dams and pamphlets, and run surveys on the sexual activities of the school).

  24. The sex ed I received in school (Germany) was more biology than anything else. It was about how conception works, what sperm is, what exactly goes on with that menstruation thing. My first sex ed class was in 5th grade (aka ~age 11), where it was all very family oriented and also included how life with a baby looks, the second time a few years later included some basic info on contraception, and more detailed info on the biology of it all.

    Yes, it was all very hetero-normative and babymaking-focused but apart from the lack of inclusiveness, I found it pretty perfect. The practical details of having a sex life were up to peers, parents and media. All I'd want to see added is better education about STDs.
    (Interestingly enough, I learned how AIDS can be passed on in elementary school. I don't quite remember though if that was an exception because there had been a used syringe found in the bushes around the schoolyard, or if it was part of the normal curriculum.)

    What I took away from it as an adult was knowing that the penis is not 'a muscle', that vaginas have a urethra too, you just can't see it very well, and that babies make a fuckton of work ;)

  25. Lurker, delurking. I went to Christian schools all my life. Sex education consisted of a gender-segregated, one-time, one-hour class that you had to had written permission of your parents to attend. The teacher wrote CHLAMYDIA and GONORRHEA on the board, then had us each draw a random Hershey's Kiss out of a box, to represent the one time we had premarital sex. If you got such and such variety of Kiss, you had AIDS. If you got this variety, you got syphilis, or pregnant, or whatever. If you got a regular old Kiss, you made it through unscathed. Out of a couple dozen girls, one person got a regular Kiss.

    Things I wish I had learned instead: how to find and rent an apartment. How to find a decent job. How to cook (I joke that when I graduated from college, I progressed from being able to microwave things that come in boxes to being able to cook things that come in boxes). How to do basic clothing repairs. How to make and stick to a budget. The real point of college, which as near as I can tell, is making connections and not grades. As a recent graduate, I can't count the number of times I've felt completely lost and overwhelmed trying to fumble through very basic things.


    Everything I know about sex I learned from My parents gave me nothing. My public schools gave me very little. It wasn't exactly abstinence-only, but abstinence was promoted over other options and I only remember one 45-minute middle-school sex-ed class that discussed contraceptive options at all. Via a video. The teacher was open to questions, but the environment did not encourage them, you know?

    A few friends of mine wanted to start some sort of grown-up sex-ed class on campus at my college, but it never happened. The editor of the school paper wussed out on publishing anything interesting or useful in the sex column they started.

    One of those friends wanted to teach because she was appalled at the rape of one of her friends--the young woman didn't know that when her boyfriend had sex with her when she told him no, it was still rape, even though she'd had sex with him before. She'd never been taught about consent.

    That, and we should have seriously been forced to learn to cook. I took a sewing class in high school, and learned a lot of useful things, but feeding myself is a bit more fundamental on my hierarchy of needs than being able to sew a coat button on the right way.

  27. Okay, not EVERYTHING came from Scarleteen. Emily Nagoski, Dan Savage, Twisted Monk, Violet Blue, and Holly Pervocracy have something to do with it too.

  28. I was a HS teacher for awhile, debate, history, govt. I was in a blue collar town where I heard a lot of "when will I ever need this." I've spent a lot of hours adding lessons to my lectures about the context of history in the modern era. There are plenty of "life lessons" to be learned from the Greeks and Romans, or Jefferson and Madison for that matter. What I found was my students would chuckle and tease me about never being on the subject and then ace the test because of how closely related the story was to the life lesson they learned while hearing it. By the end of the first quarter, they were starting to "get" my teaching style.


  29. Holly:

    How should one punish a child/teenager?

    I acknowledge that punishment of any sort is basically a worst case scenario, and I hope that if/when I have children, positive encouragement, rational explanations, and stern reprimands (if absolutely necessary) are enough to help them put themselves on what I consider a right track in life (Relatedly, I hope that I consider correctly), but the possibility remains that different measures are necessary, right?

  30. This is tangential to the actual topic at hand, but I got the feeling a few people would be interested....

    There are people in our society (America and some other Western countries) that don't send their kids to school, and while they are officially considered homeschoolers, they don't make their kids do any homeschool work either. Guess how those kids turn out.

    JUST FINE! No really, the fact that they didn't go to school didn't harm them at all. I went and saw some of these people at a conference just so I could be certain it wasn't all an elaborate internet prank. Look up "unschooling."

    And while you're at it, look up "radical unschooling," which expands the idea into other parenting realms. Punishment may be less necessary than you think (though I'm not yet convinced there's never a place for ANY kind of punishment).

  31. My sexual education perfectly avoided mentioning the existence of desire. Way to make a bunch of irrelevant WTF