What Would Good Sex Ed Look Like?

This piece in the New York Times documents a one-of-a-kind sex education class for teenagers at a private Friends’ high school in Philadelphia. In contrast to classes that teach students that abstinence is the only viable option (having pre-marital sex apparently just might kill them) or that teach only a handful of basics about contraception, STIs, and pregnancy, the “Sexuality and Society” class creates a comfortable environment in which students are encouraged to ask anything and everything about sex.

It’s a long but worthwhile read, so I’ll summarize a few main points. The article contains some historical tidbits about sex education in the U.S. (apparently in the 1970s and 1980s sex education wasn’t a politically divisive issue, and was almost universally taught in schools), in addition to ruminations about the current sad state of affairs. According to one estimate in the article, 70 percent of teenagers have had sex by their 19th birthday, which can have negative consequences if they are as woefully unprepared as a lackluster sex education curriculum (perhaps only spanning a few class lectures) might leave them.

Much of the class is spent discussing relationships; the teacher’s goal “is for young people to know their own minds, be clear about what they do and don’t want and use their self-knowledge to make choices.” This sort of education is useful even for teenagers who plan not to have sex until marriage; no self-knowledge is bad knowledge, even if it is acquired in the context of discussing sex.

Sex education, at its most basic, prepares young people for their futures–whether or not that future includes sex before or after marriage, or at all, really.Whether they’re supposed to be thinking about it or not, many young people are concerned about sex, what they should or should not do in relationships, and this article illuminates the tensions and rewards of educating young people in a humane way about sex.

Follow us on Twitter @mysexprofessor. Follow Jeana, the author of this post, @foxyfolklorist.

About Jeana

Jeana

Jeana Jorgensen, PhD recently completed her doctoral degree in folklore and gender studies at Indiana University. She studies fairy tales and other narratives, dance, body art, feminist theory, digital humanities, and gender identity.

  • http://profiles.google.com/hmoyseenko Holly Moyseenko-Kossover

    I’m so glad that you wrote about this! Al is so amazing – I was just at a conference with him. He led an excellent work shop about how we need to get rid of the baseball metaphor for sex (for SO MANY reasons!). Instead, he offers we use pizza! Al  is passionate and we truly need more sex educators like him. (also, he gives great hugs!)

  • http://twitter.com/foxyfolklorist Jeana Jorgensen

    Lucky you! I’d love to meet him!