In a recent joint survey by National Public Radio, the Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, approximately seven percent of U.S. parents objected to sex education being taught in school.
Nevertheless, the inclusion of sex education in schools is still being debated. If you’re considering whether or not to opt your child out of sex education, read on about the key issues to consider, and why some parents are for or against schools teaching sex education.
One of the fundamental debates concerning sex education is over its effectiveness. On one hand, studies show that comprehensive sex education results in:
delaying the initiation of sex as well as reducing the frequency of sex, the number of new partners, and the incidence of unprotected sex, and/or increasing the use of condoms and contraception among sexually active participants.
At the same time, some parents believe that exposing children to sex education in school sends a tacit message that sexual activity is appropriate and that teaching sex may encourage experimentation.
Another concern is whether or not the information being taught is age-appropriate for students. Many parents make a clear distinction between teaching children about the bodily changes they can expect as they hit puberty and teaching the biology and mechanics of sex and contraception.
For some parents, puberty education may be acceptable in 5th grade, while more detailed information isn’t appropriate until middle or high school. Others believe that, in a highly sexualized culture, kids mature earlier and need to have the facts earlier. Avert, a program dedicated to educating both teens and adults about safe sex, contends that:
Parents and schools both need to engage with young people about the messages that they get from the media, and give them opportunities for discussion.
Religious and Moral Concerns
Parents’ religious or moral positions are also a hot button issue in the sex education debate. More conservative parents may tolerate sex education in school, but only if it sticks to an abstinence-only approach. On the other end of the spectrum, groups such as the Religious Institute advocate for frank sex education on moral grounds:
We affirm the religious foundations for supporting sexuality education throughout the lifespan — education that respects the whole person, honors the truth and diverse values, and promotes the highest ethical values in human relationships. We support comprehensive sexuality education programs that are age-appropriate, accurate, and truthful.
What Parents Say About Their Sex-Ed Decision
Here’s what one parent who chose to opt his child out of sex education in school had to say about his decision:
If a teen wants to have sex, they’re going to have sex, and if they have sexual urges, then head knowledge about sex won’t take away those urges […] they will just be an "informed" teen that is sleeping around. Teens will have to […] learn that they have control over their own bodies. I think the parent should inform the kids about sex and not the schools! [sic]
An equally convinced mother had this to say about why she feels sex education is appropriate for her child:
A school's main functions are socialization and information. Schools teach children not only essential subjects, but also how to be viable members of adult communities […] it would seem to be in the natural way of it for a school to educate students about realities that they will face.
Another parent stresses the importance of parental involvement in determining if and when a child is ready for sex education:
The school should offer it if the parents want it, but I think it’s up to them on when their kids receive puberty and sex education. Kids all develop at a different age and rate, there is no set formula on when to teach kids this information. It’s also important to recognize the signs as a parent.
There are online resources that can help parents see and recognize some of those signs in their kids.
The Bottom Line
Before you make a decision about whether or not your child should take part in sex education at her school, review the curriculum through your local PTA or PTSA. Explore how much input you can have as a parent.
Whether or not you choose to have your child participate in these classes at school, make sure she knows where you stand on the moral and health implications of sexual activity. As noted by the Public School Review, regardless of what is or isn’t taught in school, “parents have the longest and most on-going influence on a child’s life.”
Abstinence Sex Education. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2014, from avert.org
Chen, G. (2014, January 30). Public Schools and Sex Education. Retrieved October 21, 2014, from publicschoolreview.com
Chin, T. (2014, February 7). Are Schools Teaching Sex Ed Too Late? Retrieved October 21, 2014, from blogs.kqed.org
McKeon, B. (n.d.). Effective Sex Education. Retrieved October 21, 2014, from advocatesforyouth.org
Sex Ed. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2014, from debate.org
Sexuality Education. (n.d.). Retrieved October 21, 2014, from religiousinstitute.org