Sex education provides people with the guidance needed to make healthy decisions about sex.
Formal sex ed is a product of the 20th century. Its Western origins are usually traced to two sources. First, there were military sex-ed programs begun in World War I. These were founded to lessen rates of what was then called “venereal disease” and taught chiefly to white personnel. Second, there were programs of eugenics “education” between the wars. These were founded to increase rates of what was then called “racial hygiene” and taught chiefly to white wives.
Since these beginnings, formal programs of formal sex ed have provided some people with some of the guidance needed to make some healthy decisions about sex. However, the use of sex ed to communicate agenda unrelated to the promotion of mental or physical health continues.
WHY IT MATTERS
Notwithstanding its reputation as an act to which persons are naturally drawn, sex can turn out to be an unnaturally messy business. Pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs), injured sex organs and climax may all be as natural as molasses, but, even these “natural” effects can prove surprising, especially to our libidinous youngsters.
When our hale youth are compelled to learn these lessons accurately, they tend to take their time before applying them. These lessons have also been found to encourage and facilitate conversations between them and their parents, reduce the rate of STIs and play a role in identifying and even diminishing sexual abuse.
In short, when sex ed does only its core and claimed work of providing people with the guidance needed to make healthy decisions about sex, people tend to make healthy decisions about sex.
Australian Parliament has long been chockers with folks who care so deeply, they are prepared, per the late senator Brian Harradine, to do political deals to prevent access to sex-ed and contraceptive information. The senator’s legacy of genuine concern continues with his former employee, Melinda Tankard Reist, whose website holds that sex is far too intimate to be spoken about in “mechanical” terms with teens. It continues more cynically with opponents of the Safe Schools program — not, in fact, a program of sex education.
The people to whom true sex education would mean the most are often the people upon whom the effects of an ideological and inauthentic sex-ed have been imposed. This includes Indigenous populations whose fertility has been controlled by the settler class, disabled persons, people with non-normative sexualities overlooked in sex-ed, and migrant populations, most lately in Sweden where they are offered guidelines about sex, Swedish style.
- Inaccuracies are common in English-language sex ed online materials aimed at teens.
- Accurate sex-ed has not been found to charge anyone’s libido.
- Influential Australian sex educator Marion Piddington opposed “mixed race” reproduction and pockets in the clothing of male children. She helped found the Racial Hygiene Association of New South Wales, which later became Family Planning.
THE LAST WORD
When the End of All History is finally attained, and persons live in flourishing peace with their spirit-essence, we will all enjoy congress without guilt and sexual relations without mess, unwanted infections and/or children. There will be no need at this time for embarrassed Phys Ed teachers to tell snotty teenagers unpleasant stories about dental dams.
Regrettably, sex remains a sticky mess and so a one-size-its-most institutional approach is still needed.
There are sex-ed pedagogies that do a decent job of guiding teachers. It is possible to teach biologically accurate lessons that do not challenge the ethics of the student. It is, perhaps, quite important to teach students to think about sexual practice in terms of their own ethical guidelines.
It is certainly most effective, in terms of public health outcomes, to encourage a community control approach, as was seen in the HIV/AIDS education of the 1990s prepared by and for gay male communities.
Michel Foucault, J (1976). The History of Sexuality
ABC Radio (2010) Bullets for condoms: sex education in Australia (Text and audio)
John D. Lamond (1978) The ABCs of Love & Sex (Censored Trailer) (Video NOT SAFE FOR WORK)
Jonathan Zimmerman (2015) Too Hot to Handle: A Global History of Sex Education
Aileen Moreton-Robinson (2000) Talkin’ up to the white woman: indigenous women and feminism
Natalia Mehlman Petrzela (2015) Classroom Wars: Language, Sex, and the Making of Modern Political Culture