It's been interesting reading about the new sex education curriculum, proposed then rejected, in Ontario. The comments and letters to the editors have been the usual "enlightening" mix. As usual, people turned it into the right vs left, religious vs secular, liberal vs conservative dichotomies. It's both sad an amusing to read people on the left (or at least self identifying themselves as such) rant about how the religious right is trying to keep children in ignorance (forgetting that there already is a sex ed program that no one's trying to stop), with the usual digs against abstinence (because you know those horny teenagers - they're just too hormonally out of control to stop themselves from screwing anything that moves) and the predictable anti-Catholic priest comments (insert sick comments painting all priests and the RC church as pedophile sex abusers). On the right, I notice a lot of commenter's WHO LIKE TO SHOUT IN ALL CAPS. Interestingly, the self-professed right has been less likely to insult leftist people (rather than their ideals), and are more likely to say things like, it's not the governments/schools business to teach our children about sex.
From what I've seen of the proposal, I'm glad it was defeated. It really seemed inappropriate to me. Being of a more libertarian bent, I do agree that it's not the place of schools or government to be foisting their version of values and morality on our kids - and the proposed program did skirt the edges of that.
In my view, sex ed has a place in schools, but it should not be a separate thing. Include it in health or biology classes, for example. Talk about it openly, without political or activist agenda.
More importantly, don't tell the kids more than they are developmentally capable of understanding.
That's where things get hard. Children develop differently, and become capable of understanding different concepts at different times from their peers.
Our take on it was, if our kids were old enough to ask the question, they were old enough to hear the answer - but JUST the answer. If that answer wasn't enough information, they'd ask more. When I became pregnant with Youngest, it was perfectly natural and expected for Eldest, who turned 3 shortly before her sister was born, to ask how I became pregnant. We explained it factually, using proper terms (we're big on using proper terminology for body parts). We briefly described ovulation, fertilization, and the mechanics of how a few cells became a baby inside a mother's uterus. She was satisfied and moved on.
It was another 2 years before she came back to ask just *how* the sperm from Dad got to the egg in Mom.
Over the years, they asked questions, and we answered them, delving into the topics with as much, or as little, detail that seemed appropriate at the time. It wasn't always comfortable for us (we do still have our own hang ups when it comes to talking about sex, after all), but we did eventually cover all the bases, including homosexuality and masturbation. We kept the discussions as neutral as possible, but didn't shrink from discussing the morals and values different groups associate with sex and sexuality when those issues came up as well.
The result of this was that our girls had a greater understanding of sex and sexuality than their schooled age mates. When they were around groups of schooled kids in their own age range, they encountered attitudes towards sex as being something scandalous, with incredible gaps in knowledge, and attitudes that saw the proper terms for body parts as equivalent to swears, yet at the same time they (especially the girls) behaved in highly signalized manners. Their inability to get a rise out of my kids with their foul mouthed, slang-filled sex talk perplexed them.
And the local school did have a sex education program!
We North Americans have a rather unusual culture and attitude towards sex, historically speaking. On the one hand, we're bombarded with sex constantly. Tv, movies, advertisements, and the media are filled with sexual references and innuendo.
You'd think, then, that we are actually quite open about sex, yet we're really very repressed. Historically, children didn't need to be "taught" about sex. Sex wasn't hidden from them. When we lived in large family groups, with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. all under the same roof in homes that sometimes had only two or three rooms, there was no such thing as privacy. Kids grew up knowing about sex because they probably saw family members having sex fairly regularly. It was just another part of life. Even as some of our cultures developed more repressed attitudes towards sex, youth were still exposed to it. How could they not be, when whole families often not only slept in the same room, but often in the same bed. If they even had beds. If they weren't seeing humans have sex, they would still be exposed to animals mating. They might even have played a controlling role in their animals' mating habits by ensuring desirable cross breeding.
Today's children are both exposed to vast amount of sex and sexuality, while at the same time being completely sheltered from it. They aren't being expose to sex as a normal, natural part of life. Instead, it's glamorized, satirized, or demonized. It's used to sell clothing, cars and condiments.
In schools, sex ed is often taught with an agenda, and in today's world, that is often strongly associated with the liberal left. I used to scoff at the notion, but it turns out there really is a "gay agenda" here in Canada. It's published and printed, payed for with Cdn tax dollars (it's the only revision job my husband did where he actually had a problem with the content of what he was revising - making sure the English and French said the same thing, rather than being an Engrish translation). It was filled with revisionist history, bizarre, hetero-phobic statements and, yes, a spelled out agenda of how to teach and promote homosexuality through public schools.
The public school system is highly susceptible to being taken over by special interest groups. Whatever trend is currently popular - or has the most political influence - will find its way into the school system. In Canada, our public schools have largely been an experiment of typically leftist ideology. Interestingly, I know people who chose to home school their kids because the public school system isn't far enough to the left for them, while others home school their kids because they felt the schools had gone to far in usurping parental authority by teaching leftist ideology.
Schools shouldn't be left or right. Or even centrist. Schools should be about education. Learning the basic tools our children will need to lead successful, productive adult lives. They should be a resource where, beyond the Three R's, children can explore avenues of knowledge and have access to the tools to help them do so.
As far as I'm concerned, sex ed has an important place in schools. Too many parents can't, or won't, talk to their own kids about sex. The reasons for that can vary significantly. It could be simple discomfort. Or it could be a triggering subject for a parent that suffered sexual abuse. Or it could be simply ignorance of physiology (like my own mother, who didn't know what an ovary was when, after the removal of my appendix, the doctor mentioned they'd removed a large cyst from one of my ovaries).
The thing is, sex ed in schools should stick to the facts. Values and morals are a matter of parenting, religion and culture. Yes, talk about the health and biology of our bodies. Yes, discuss just what is physically involved with gay sex. Yes, discuss contraception and sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, discuss abstinence which, despite claims to the contrary, isn't just saying "don't do it," while leaving children in ignorance.
And yes, if it comes up, discuss the associations people, religions and cultures have towards sex. But do it without judgement or pushing agendas. One side of the spectrum is totally uncomfortable with kids knowing about sex, thinking that if they know about it, they'll do it, while on the other side, it's assumed the kids will do it anyway, so may as well tell them to have at it.
Neither extreme is useful.
Keeping kids ignorant of sexuality isn't going to stop them from having sex, but at the same time, kids aren't helpless against their hormones, unable to exert any sort of control over their sexual desires. Heck, some kids may not even have those sexual desires. From what they're being taught now (either in schools or by our culture), they are led to believe that they should be having these sexual urges, and if they're not, there's something wrong with them. They're being taught that, if they don't have a sexual attraction to the opposite sex, they must be gay (because the idea that they may simply not be sexually attracted to either gender, or not have an out of control libido, just isn't entertained). They're even being encouraged to experiment with both hetero- and homosexual sex, just to try it out. I remember one mom describing her child in elementary coming home from school asking, "is it okay for me not to be gay?"
They're now home schooling.
Talking about sex with our kids should be as normal as talking about any other part of our biology. How far into the details of it should depend on what the individual child is developmentally capable of understanding.
Unfortunately, that makes it very difficult to develop a set curriculum for public schools.