Voices Online EditionLent - Easter 2001, Volume XVI, No. 1
What about "Sex Ed"?
by Nancy Valko, RN
As a nurse, I occasionally care for AIDS patients. The hospital requires that I wear gloves, a waterproof gown and goggles if there is any danger that I might be splashed with any bodily fluid from such a patient. Yet we are told that a condom is good protection against AIDS. If that were true, then all I would need to care for an AIDS patient would be a condom.
Ridiculous, of course. But does it really make sense to encourage people to trust their lives to this? Yet, condom use remains the cornerstone of "safe sex" education in most public schools.
Can we really trust the "sexperts", whose influence has apparently infiltrated into even some Catholic schools?
Reviewing the materials
I live in a rather conservative public school district which says it promotes abstinence for teens while giving balanced factual information. But in reviewing some of the materials, I found that a section on the benefits of birth control was "balanced" only with failure rates (some erroneous) for the various methods. No mention was made of the actions often abortifacient or potential side effects like depression associated with various devices such as the Pill. However, the "rhythm method" was mentioned as particularly ineffective in pregnancy prevention and Natural Family Planning was totally ignored.
In a junior high program, a section on fetal development showed tiny pictures of unborn babies with an accompanying text on what parts of the unborn baby are affected at that stage by birth defects. A story about a woman choosing amniocentesis was the introduction to that chapter. These are just two examples of inaccurate, inadequate or biased information I discovered, but even more frustrating was the school's response. The principal was polite, respectful and said he would take my comments seriously. Which meant, of course, that nothing changed. Well, actually, one thing has changed over the years the procedure for getting a child out of a sex education class.
With my first child, a note was sent home with an anti-permission slip to be signed if I did not want my child to participate. I signed it and my son was excused from such classes.
My second child was a bit more rebellious and her anti-permission slip didn't quite make it back to school. She was halfway through the course when I found out. I was told that I could "home school" the rest of the course using the school's materials.
With my third child, no permission slip was sent at all and when I called to inquire, the principal called me back. I explained my objections including those based on religious grounds, but was told that I would have to send him a letter to get her excused because a phone call was insufficient. That was junior high.
Now, my daughter is 15 and in high school. I have learned to voice my objections early because sex education is now just part of a family life and health program. By putting drug education, sex education, healthy lifestyles, etc. in one lump course, parents need not be informed about programs to which they might object. Instead, we are encouraged to "share" our views and principles with our children.
It is ironic that one parent offended by a mention of God in a public school invocation can get a school to change its policies, while many parents offended by what is being taught in sex education are ignored.
The sex education monolith
Last year, when Representative Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma and an obstetrician, proposed legislation to require warning labels on condoms because of HPV (human papilloma virus), he was quickly attacked by the American College of Ob-Gyns (ACOG), Planned Parenthood and the Society of Gynecologic Oncologists.
Rep./Dr. Coburn had been fighting for more than a year to make HPV a reportable disease like AIDS and to put warnings on condom packages saying that they offer little or no protection against HPV. A study by the national Center for Disease Control found that the human papilloma virus, the sexually transmitted virus responsible for causing 95% of all cervical cancer cases, is now the "most prevalent" STD.
Yet, in a letter to Congress, the ACOG opposed telling people that condoms don't work against HPV because such warnings were "not medically appropriate" and "would discourage condom use".
Discouraging condom use is apparently the ultimate "sin" in sex education, according to these groups. Even if gives our children a false sense of security?
Actually, there is more than one sexually transmitted disease against which condoms offer little or no protection. Even on Planned Parenthood's website, this fact is acknowledged and the only protection advice offered is to "limit the number of intimate and sexual contacts". Regarding HPV, Planned Parenthood continues to insist that condoms offer at least some protection and that "few HPV infections (statistically) lead to cervical cancer" anyway. This is a group which states it "wants you to have a happy and healthy sex life".
Coburn's legislative proposal, not surprisingly, was defeated. But even though sex education proponents won that skirmish, there are real signs of hope.
The debate about sex education has recently heated up again due to legislation allowing federal and state funds to be used for abstinence-only sex education.
Since 1996, such funding has led to an estimated 3000% increase in abstinence education, which has groups like Planned Parenthood in a tizzy. Abstinence programs have been even been called "dangerous" and "irresponsible" because such groups insist that many if not most teens will have sex anyway and they will be harmed or even die without accurate information about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. But, as I personally found out, giving children "the facts" doesn't mean giving all the facts.
To counteract the momentum of abstinence education, the new buzz phrase is "comprehensive sex education", which supposedly can teach both abstinence and "safe sex". It's no surprise that most of the major media have taken up the cause and newspaper editorials often cite a recent study purportedly showing that 75% of the parents surveyed wanted "comprehensive" sex education taught in schools.
Few parents themselves are well-informed about birth control and sexually transmitted diseases. It is almost impossible to keep up with the constantly increasing amount of information available and be able to separate fact from propaganda. To rely on the media or sex educators to inform our children about sex is ultimately dangerous to their physical health as well as to their emotional and moral health.
Abstinence-only programs are very good as well as surprisingly successful in teaching teens to wait until marriage. But the what is also really needed for our whole society is chastity-based education. Chastity is a life-long decision to use the gift of sexuality wisely. It is based on principles and real goals which apply to everyone-single or married, young or old. The teenage years are an exceptionally difficult time as teens learn about independence, responsibility, impulse control and relationships. It is a time of preparation for a responsible adulthood which usually results in marriage and parenthood.
"Comprehensive" sex education is not really about giving information but rather about a politics of despair where the sex "experts" hope for some damage control in the areas of teen pregnancy and disease. But we are already seeing the failure of such an approach in the proliferation of new sexually transmitted diseases, abortion, divorce, unwed moms, deadbeat dads, child abuse, etc., as well as a growing cynicism about relationships in our young people. If sex is seen as little more than recreation with consequences to be avoided, how will our children later be able to handle the temptation to cheat on a spouse or the sacrifices involved in raising a child?
Despite the challenges of confronting the sex "experts", we must continue to demand better from our schools-and our society. And we must realize that the most influential sex education tool we can give our children is to be good examples ourselves, whatever our station in life.
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