Friday, May 1, 2015

Sex Ed And Ostriches

I've been writing a lot about my teenage daughter's upcoming prom — about dresses and dates, permission slips and soon, promposals (it's coming, I promise). What I haven't talked about yet is ... 


According to a fairly recent survey by Seventeen magazine, 14% of girls will have sex on prom night. 5% of girls (and 3% of boys) will lose their virginity. That may not sound like a lot, until you do the math. There are more than 6 million juniors and seniors in more than 19,000 public high schools in the USA. So, not including private schools, we're talking about 240,000 first-timers.

Maybe the schools should spend a little less on breathalyzers and a little more on condoms.

Maybe the schools should also take a look at their current sex ed curriculum.

I was a PTO officer for four years, two in lower middle school and two in upper middle school (by the time we graduated to high school, I was completely burned out). I once had a major maternal hissy fit at a program called "Don't Panic, It's Just Puberty." What got my knickers in a knot was learning that they taught some semblance of reproduction in junior high, but that they didn't teach sexuality in high school. At all.

"So, waitaminute," I remember saying. "So, we explain the birds and the bees to kids who still think the opposite sex is gross, but we don't address any of it once the kids are actually in relationships?"

The rather exasperated Health Ed Curriculum Director confirmed that my assumption was correct. She then invited me to take on the district administration. I respectfully declined.

In my high school, growing up in the still fairly groovy and free loving 1970s, we learned about sex, about birth control, about STDs. Thanks to the efforts of an exceptionally liberal classmate, we actually had the owner of notorious sex club Plato's Retreat as a speaker. (It was indicative of the nerdliness of my fellow students that we were more interested in his business plan than anything going down in the "mattress room.")

Today's high school administrators prefer to take an ostrich approach: hide their head in the sand and it will all go away.

SparkLife is a colorful blog that's run by SparkNotes (the digital world's answer to those yellow and black CliffNotes we all remember — but never used, surely). They did a survey about high school sex ed, the results of which they summarized as "Extremely Brief and Incredibly Awkward."

31% of students described it as "Abstinence based chit chat that also gives you some information on protection."

25% "An explanation of the role of consent, choice, protection, consequences, and resources so thorough I could pass my O.W.L.S. in Sex Ed for sure." (That's a Harry Potter allusion; Ordinary Wizarding Level.)

18% "Abstinence-only education." (And we all know how well that works.)

17% "A very awkward encounter with a prop box and some info on how to use protection."

5% "A game of rock, paper, scissors that made no sense and contained no reference to the human body."

5% "I'm home-schooled."

The answer options, of course, are meant to be funny. But, the point is this: only one quarter of students are getting what they recognize as comprehensive sex education. School systems (like ours) insist that its the parents' job to provide all that uncomfortable information. But, only 16% of students participating in the survey thought their moms and dads taught them everything they needed to know.

So where do the rest of today's high school students get their information? 

"The Internet, duh."

I feel better now, don't you?   

If you enjoyed this post, I invite you to order a copy of my book  Lovin' the Alien at  

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