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Students Dangerously Misled by Outdated Sex Ed Courses, Report Reveals

Sex, lies, & misinformation.

By Kristin Wong Sep 14, 2012 7:26PM

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from the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), many schools are teaching sex education courses that are severely outdated.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.

Related video: 5 Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship

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."

More love and sex on MSN Living:

Crazy Marriage Proposals
Weird Wild World of Modern Love
Most Romantic Date Destinations in America
25 Reasons Why Married Sex Is Better


Photo:  Paul Simcock/Getty Images


Sep 14, 2012 11:10PM

Sex ed. as a whole is a severe catastrophe.


Since the advent of modern sex ed, the amount of teenage females getting pregnant has gone through the roof and is somewhere on Mars for an equivalent.


It's failing children and chldren think you can have sex with a condom and not get pregnant. Let's get serious, condoms break, spermicide can't even come close to catching 1 in a 100 sperm let alone millions.


We don't even tell kids that you should wait until  your 18 let alone married any more.


Sex ed. in the public school system is a catastrophe and has been ever since parents got lazy and decided it was ok for the school system to teach their beloved child things that most adults don't even want to know.


Let's get serious here folks, morality aside, children can't vote till 18, can't drink until 21, can't join the military legally until 18 yet we're teaching our children how to have sex. Science has proven over and over that a young person's brain isn't fully devloped for complete cognitive thought and critical thinking skills until the age of 25 on average. Yet some in American society think it's correct to teach children how to have sex responsibly when they can't even grasp responsibility until well past the age of legal alchohol consuption.


Does this seem stupid to any one but me? Drinking and going to war messes you up but having sex destroys the life of 2 people and a baby that had no choice in being brought into the world by two seriously irresponsible teenagers that should have never had sex in the first place.


If it's truly your goal (which we all know it isn't) to make sure that students get accurate, sound health information" then keep your nose out of something that is most definitely NOT the states business and quit teaching kids about having sex and do what it was designed to do and teach them about their bodies and the spiritual and phsyical ramifications of something designed for marriage between adults which is what sex ed was designed for in the first place... Health information, not how to get lucky on Friday night.

Sep 14, 2012 11:09PM

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.        

Sep 14, 2012 11:02PM
The number of teenage mothers and "an abortion clinic" in every community is proof of our schools failure to educate just as SAT scores and the fact our kids our graduating idiots compared to other countries that only spend a fraction per student as we do. As long as we continue to teach and promote "political correctness, bogus gay rights and every one's a winner" in our schools, there will be no winners but rather a bunch of moronic trash emerging from our public schools going straight to the Government with their hands out because they don't have the shkills to do anything else but be a dependent. Maybe that's what the Government wants? If so, hey! The Government finally succeeded in something...
Sep 14, 2012 10:59PM

I would love to see parents take a sex ed test,and then see the results of the test. Unless there in the medical field, chance are they would fail it. Face it sex is taboo  in america.Well safe sex is. All the do gooder church groups only want to teach that sex is bad and wait till your married.

This became relevant when a 12 year old niece had a slumber party. One of her friends had her first period ,the poor little girl thought she was bleeding to death. My sister had to explain what was going on. Her parents was on a church get away,where no cells were allowed.Then here mom got upset because she used the wrong type device,a tampon verse a napkin.

Sep 14, 2012 10:56PM
I am a former teacher.  Sounds as if none of you have visited your children's school/class lately.   You should place that on your schedule just as you would a doctor's appointment.  Some schools require appointments and some don't.  Of course, you have to report to the office, but don't let that stop you from showing an interest in the place your child spends the bulk of his/her day.  Most employers would grant you a couple of hours to visit your child's classroom.  Why - because they have kids in school, too.
Sep 14, 2012 10:52PM
Just because someone is an advocate of marriage-based families, does not mean that we are close-minded to the different types of marriages there might be or that the kids still need to learn about sex. Heck, I don't care of you're gay, straight, bisexual or transgendered, I just think it's important for kids to see their parents in a lasting, loving, committed MARRIAGE.  Just living together is different - there's always an easy way out.  Kids need to learn to finish what they've started and accountability, things that seem to be sorely lacking today. 
Yes, it would be nice if everyone could wait until their married, but that's a fairy-tale.  I've worked in schools, I know kids become sexually active in 5th or 6th grade, I know there was NO sex-ed taught in the middle school (although there was when I was a kid, and there were no teen pregnancies, now there's nothing and several pregnancies - hmmmmm) and that most parents don't teach their kids a thing.  I had one high school student come to my office (a very smart, 4.0 junior) and ask if I could diagram the female reproductive system because she didn't know how it worked and why she got a period every month.  This was a junior, who had already been through our school's version of 'sex-ed,' and biology courses, came from a non-conservative family, and she didn't even know what fallopian tubes, the uterus, or cervix were located and how it all worked!  This was only one student out of SEVERAL who came to me to ask about reproduction and STD prevention.  Especially when I was pregnant, the questions were never-ending, and it was basic reproduction questions they were asking.  One girl thought I was 'growing the baby in my stomach' and she couldn't understand how my stomach acid wasn't eating the baby! Another knew that she had a period, but didn't know what it meant, or that she could get pregnant if she was to engage in sex (which she was, and why a month later I had to hold her hand and tell her she needed to talk to her Mom and get a pregnancy test.  She was in the 6th grade (and thank God, not pregnant!). I was the only adult in their world that would give them accurate information, not judge them for asking and wouldn't assume they were immediately planning on loosing their 'virtue.' Most of the adults in their lives would assume the kid was planning on having sex, so they would refuse to explain anything because, in their minds, if their kids are ignorant as to how their body works and how sex works and how babies are made, then they wouldn't go and do anything.  Right.  They are kids, they are naturally curious - who wouldn't want to know how their body worked?
In my admittedly limited experience, the parents who protested the most against school sex-ed on the grounds that it should be taught at home, were the parents who become grandparents while their child(ren) were still in high school - because they never taught anything at home and their kids had no idea what the heck was going on.  Kids are going to eventually leave the house and you can't keep them in a 'bubble' forever.  They at least need to know how their bodies work and how to prevent STD's and pregnancy, knowledge that can be useful in some marriages!
Sep 14, 2012 10:49PM
I'm sick of teachers getting blamed for everything.  It's not their responsibility to teach kids these things that they should be learning from their parents. I say take sex ed out of school.
Sep 14, 2012 10:47PM

The ACLU is a communist organization.  Read their Charter.  they want to overthrow the Republic.


Everyting they advocate is with that goal.

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