Students Dangerously Misled by Outdated Sex Ed Courses, Report Reveals
Sex, lies, & misinformation.
Some might argue that it's up to parents to teach their children about sex, but sex education is nothing new, and research shows that proper sex education actually delays teen sex. But according to a new report from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), many schools are teaching sex education courses that are severely outdated.
The NYCLU's survey of 82 schools found that students are learning gender stereotypes, biases and in some cases, flat out inaccuracies.
In the NYCLU's "Birds, Bees and Bias: How Absent Sex Ed Standards Fail New York Students," they examined the textbooks, lesson plans and supplements teachers used to educate 540,000 New York students about sex. Executive director Donna Lieberman summed up the findings in a conference call on Wednesday:
"Too much is missing. Too much is inaccurate. There are far too many stereotypes and far too much bias."
When it comes to AIDS education, for example, 44 percent of schools teaching it are using scientifically inaccurate information. According to blog Albany Watch, one district even showed students a diagram that illustrated the timeline of HIV leading to a death sentence. It included an arrow pointing at a tombstone that read "RIP."
Students were also egregiously misinformed about safe sex. While 80 percent of districts taught some information about condoms, only one-third of them provided demonstrations, and some schools were teaching flat-out dangerous misinformation. They told students that condoms containing a certain type of spermicide could prevent the transmission of HIV. But, in actuality, the spermicide they cited (which is still on the market) makes it easier for the HIV virus to spread. According to the report:
"But for more than a decade, Nonoxynol-9 has been known not to prevent transmission, and to possibly increase HIV transmission in women. Misinformation of this nature is both medically inaccurate and potentially dangerous."
Furthermore, in one school, students were advised to use condoms only if they were having sex with multiple partners.
With blunders like this, why teach sex ed in the first place?
Less immediately dangerous but potentially harmful to social evolution and students' identity, the NYCLU also found that gender stereotypes were reinforced in much of the curricula. The materials included diagrams of male and female brains, illustrating that men almost exclusively think about sex while women are needy and jealous. While that may be a long-standing gender stereotype (and fodder for '90s standup material), it's generally untrue.
"Both the state guidance document and the national standards say high school student should learn about gender stereotypes and how stereotypes about gender roles can be limiting for men and women," the report reveals. Further, they add: "The national standards add that middle and high school students should learn about gender identity; gender expression; transgender people, sex stereotypes and gender non-conformity; and that biological sex, gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation differ."
And that's another area where these schools have failed, and, I think it's safe to assume, schools across the nation are likely failing. There was relatively no information on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. For students questioning their sexuality or gender identity, sex ed could be a very informative source of guidance. Unfortunately, there's nothing offered.
The report also found that there were moral overtones to a lot of this information, and in some instances, shame-based messages. In some cases, schools taught that sex is only appropriate within the context of marriage. One textbook read:
"Waiting until marriage to have sex preserves traditional marriage … Actions that preserve traditional marriage preserve the family."
So, basically, the message is: Don't have sex before marriage or you're ruining your future family.
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To be honest, there's very little I remember from my junior high sex education, other than the giggling that ensued every time our uptight science teacher said the word "penis." And he knew we were giggling, too. He didn't want to teach it any more than we wanted to hear him talk about it; we all just wanted to get the awkwardness over with. But the point is, perhaps it's time to take sex education a bit more seriously.
The Heart Beat talked to one California teacher who says that the problem isn't limited to New York.
"I teach sex education in California public schools, juvenile hall and parent groups. I’m credentialed and certified. I have found two glaring errors in the most used sex-ed curriculum in the state."
The teacher, who prefers to be left unnamed, says one of the errors has to do with condom use.
"The materials that the students view in the [sex-ed] curriculum do not mention one vital step in proper condom usage: putting it on before sexual contact."
It may seem obvious, but it's still important, and apparently, it needs to be reinforced:
"Studies confirmed by the CDC show that 'Incorrect use more commonly entails a failure to use condoms throughout the entire sex act, from start (of sexual contact) to finish (after ejaculation).'"
Further, the source tells us that other parts of the curriculum leave "students to believe that condoms could be 100 percent effective for all STDs, which is medically inaccurate."
She adds that she's brought the errors to the attention of the Department of Education and Red Cross Positive Prevention, as well as the original author of the specific curriculum.
"Millions of students have been given biased inaccuracies--errors that led them in the direction of making unhealthy choices. Currently, one in four US teens have an STI (sexually transmitted infection). At a minimum, what they are taught in school should attempt to improve that figure, not make it worse."
The NYCLU is recommending that the state Education Department update its sex education regulations. They want to make sex ed more comprehensive.
"It's shocking what passes for sex ed in some New York classrooms," assistant advocacy director Johanna Miller, a co-author of the report, said in a statement. "Rigorous, binding statewide standards are essential to fix these rampant failures."
Dennis Tompkins, a spokesman for the Department of Education, added that the organization is reviewing the report.
"Our goal is to make sure students get accurate, sound health information."
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Photo: Paul Simcock/Getty Images
I recall my sex education courses as being straight-up biology, including physical changes brought on by puberty, fertility, and mechanism of fertilization. There were no philosophical insights provided, and no mention of gender preference in any way. However, from a scientific point of view, it was quite valuable to understand how fertilization and conception worked and the nature of fertility cycles. All the rest, including gender variables and contraception, should be logically deducible from the biological facts.
Educators have no need to moralize. An education providing facts only should be acceptable to all. Leave the moral part of sexual interaction to parents and churches.
Believe it or not, the best sex ed is the O.W.L. course offered by Unitarian-Universalist churches. O.W.L. stands for "Our Whole Lives," and the course teaches that humans are sexual/sensual beings our whole lives, from cradle to grave--but that different types of pleasures are best enjoyed at different ages, and some are best waited for. Most of the teens who take the O.W.L. course delay sex much longer than their peers. My granddaughter took it and is still not sexually active--at age 21. Both her brothers took it last year and both are still pre-sexually-active (at 18 and 16). Mind you, the course doesn't pull ANY punches--the kids learn EVERYTHING they ever wanted to know and a lot of things they didn't. With props. With illustrations. With the right words. With accurate info. Some parents would object to the course material. I think it's superb.
I am 68 years old and when I went to school from 1950 through 1962 there simply was no sex education. In the sixth grade the girls had a assembly where they watched a movie about their cycle and just a very tiny bit about sperm (depicted as little fishes swimming upstream) and the egg (depicted as a hen dropping an egg into a tube) and the fishes eating the egg. I was the student projectionist and I can remember having to cover my mouth with a towel so no one could hear my laughter as I showed this nonesense.
Also my straight laced parents never taught me anything. By the time that I was 13 I had researched the human reproductive system on my own in the library and could detail the entire male and female anatomy and the processes involved in conceiving and delivering a healthy baby in full clinical detail. I had also viewed medical training movies (this was way before DVDs existed) on delivering a baby normally, breach, cord or blue babies, and caesarean section. I knew about the episiotomy and why they did it and how to deliver the placenta or afterbirth after securing and severing the umbilical cord. In short I probably knew more than many of today's supposed sex ed. instructors.
The one thing and perhaps the most important thing that I failed to learn from clinical books was about relationships and what goes on in the minds of the participants. It took me a very long time to learn to listen to and respect my female counterparts. After knowing what they went through in the birth process I was totally in awe of their strength, resilience, and determination and from that day on I could never denigrate their contribution to this world. I must say I have been a widower now for 4 years and I really miss the companionship and caring of my late wife. I am looking but how do you replace something that was so perfect? Now I need to accept that what ever happens I must regard it as a fresh start.
If I were constructing a sex ed curriculum I feel certain that I would begin with relationships before ever teaching the first thing about the mechanics. I would follow that with the emotions and the hormones that drive our sexual urges so the kids could understand why they feel that they do at times. As they say knowledge is power and ignorance is failure.
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