Because if you don’t teach kids about sex, they’ll never figure it out on their own

A Maryland court has just heard arguments in a case over sex education brought against a school board by parents. The main issue with the law is its teachings on homosexuality:

Until now, opposition has focused on the constitutional rights of Montgomery families whose religious beliefs do not abide homosexuality. But with yesterday’s hearing before Circuit Court Judge William Rowan III, an attorney for the plaintiffs narrowed his focus to a few words in the disputed lessons.

Brandon Bolling, a lawyer from the Thomas More Law Center in Ann Arbor, Mich., challenged a passage in the 90-minute lessons that describes homosexuality as innate. That assertion, he said, violates a provision of a state law that says school curricula must be factual.

That sexual orientation is innate is a theory that has been rejected by courts in several states, Bolling said. “The Maryland law says you have to teach something that is factually accurate,” he said. “They are not doing that. That is illegal.”

School officials say the legal challenge intrudes on their right to do their job: writing curricula and teaching children. The new lessons survived an appeal last year to the Maryland State Board of Education, which determined it had no place to “second-guess the appropriateness” of the lessons.

“The purpose of the law in Maryland is to leave educational decisions to educators,” said Judith Bresler, attorney for the county school board. She said critics were effectively asking the court to edit the curriculum “word by word.”

To address the first point about “factual” teachings, I have to say it’s a pretty ridiculous argument. Not because sex ed shouldn’t be factual, but because schools are currently teaching teenagers all across this country that birth control pills don’t work, condoms don’t work, abortions make you sterile, and having sex before marriage will cause you to have later trouble bonding with a spouse, if you ever get one (you filthy slut) because no one will ever love you. But we shouldn’t be surprised that the teaching challenged by those who care so much about “accuracy” has to do with describing the very existence of homosexuality.

I don’t think that science has definitively determined that homosexuality is innate, though most reputable scientists seem to believe that sexual orientation has a genetic basis. Personally, as I’ve expressed before, I’m not extremely comfortable with focusing on the the “innateness” of sexuality. The purpose of teaching that homosexuality is innate, of course, is to present it as acceptable. This necessarily implies that if homosexuality was not innate, or was something that could actively be chosen, it would be perfectly okay to scorn and discriminate against those who are homosexual. And that’s a bunch of bullshit, because there is absolutely nothing wrong with sexuality, and as long as sexual activity takes place consensually, the genders of those we choose to sleep with should not be a factor on which we judge people. We shouldn’t accept non-heterosexual sexual identities because people “can’t help it,” but because there’s nothing wrong with those sexual identities in the first place.

Luckily, as I’ve previously covered, the curriculum teaches a lot more about sexual orientation than that. And I have a strong feeling that even the homophobic zealous Christian types aren’t even so upset about the idea that homosexuality is innate as they are about language that non-heterosexual sexuality should be celebrated. Hell, they don’t want teenagers (or adults, for that matter) to think that any sexuality should be celebrated. How do we know this? Other than just general paying attention to the world, there’s proof right here in this very case, because the lawsuit gets even more ridiculous:

Opponents object to language in the condom lesson about oral and anal sex. Bolling said those passages violate a state prohibition against material that “portrays erotic techniques of sexual intercourse.”

State code offers no further guidance. Critics of the curriculum said yesterday that the code covers any talk of sex acts other than those used for procreation.

Bolling said the state school board had allowed Montgomery too much discretion in defining the term. Bresler, speaking for the county board, said that Maryland affords school boards special deference in interpreting education laws. The judge concurred.

Jonathan Frankel, an attorney for the advocacy group Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays of the Metropolitan Washington D.C. Area, offered the judge further perspective. “There’s a big difference,” he said, “between the condom video and the Kama Sutra.”

There you go. Though these people are obviously homophobic bigots, I think that what this is ultimately about, and also what the objection to homosexuality is ultimately about, is sexual pleasure. Homosexuality is “wrong” because sexual activity between two people of the same biological sex can not result in babies. That means people in same-sex relationships must be having sex for sexual pleasure. Of course, we’ll ignore the fact that straight people also have sex for pleasure much more often than for procreation, and even then usually for both — unless, of course, they’re having oral or anal sex. Even straight oral and anal sex doesn’t make babies.

So we can’t teach the kids about those things. Apparently they’ll do them if we talk about them, but won’t if we act like oral and anal sex don’t exist — they certainly couldn’t find out from any other source, like friends, porn, music, tv, movies, books, magazines or blogs. And it’s not like there’s a long-standing tradition of straight kids having oral and anal sex as a “safe” alternative to PIV sex to preserve some bizarre version of virginity and prevent pregnancy, and then ending up with all kinds of unpleasant or very dangerous STDs because no one told them that these sexual activities require protection, too. And it’s not like gay boys have ever engaged in anal sex without protection because they don’t realize the potential risk. In fact, the only reason that oral and anal sex even exist is because we keep talking about it. If we weren’t planting ideas in kids’ heads, they’d certainly never think to stick something up their butts or kiss their partner’s genitals all on their own. It’s my understanding that oral and anal sex are only around because some deviant pervert came up with the practices long ago, and then the homosexual lobby and Planned Parenthood kept them alive for centuries through the distribution of pamphlets.

Pointing out the stupidity of this kind of moralizing aside, this is really just an issue of discrimination. If we teach straight sex ed, we need to acknowledge and educate about all other sexualities, as well. Anything else is just fundamentally wrong.

As Frankel expressed, teaching sexual practice is not the same as teaching sexual technique. Telling teens that they should fondle their partner’s testicles during anal sex isn’t the same as telling them to use lots of lubricant so that they don’t hurt themselves, or to use condoms to severely lower their risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease. Personally, I think that teaching about sexual pleasure to at least some extent is also something that we should work towards (women shouldn’t have to wait until they’re in their mid-twenties for someone to hand them a Betty Dodson book and finally learn to orgasm). But that’s a whole different and even more difficult battle. What we’re fighting for right now is basic safety, doing our best to make sure that people stay healthy and don’t face unnecessary negative consequences for their sexual activity. It’s not an issue of religion. If there were some specific nutritional benefits to ham, would health teachers not be able to mention that for fear of upsetting Jewish parents? Even these wacknuts would disagree with that, but probably only because, you know, Jewish people aren’t Christian.

The point is that even here in America, we shouldn’t allow that type of double-standard. It’s a rights issue plain and simple, though I don’t exactly expect the courts to agree with me anytime soon.

0 thoughts on “Because if you don’t teach kids about sex, they’ll never figure it out on their own

  1. brandann

    the problem w/ the religious zealots is that they seem to think that if they shield their offspring from things that they are protecting them. they don’t have the common sense to realize that if they actually bothered to talk to their kids about things like homosexuality and oral and anal sex they could actually tell them their feelings about them. not that that is any better, but at least they would give the kid an idea about what is actually out there when they leave the sanctuary of home. beyond that for some reason it is too much to ask to make sure kids have facts free from judgement. like sending a soldier into combat w/o a weapon they are sending a generation of young adults into the “real world” unprepared for the dangers posed by these behaviors that they find objectionable. while you and i see them as perfectly normal parts of love and sexuality for a whole section of people, these kids start to see it as the types of things that cause infections, diseases, etc…b/c they never knew enough to be protected. this kind of sheltering does more harm than good. hope i made some kind of coherent thought.

  2. Violet

    “It’s my understanding that oral and anal sex are only around because some deviant pervert came up with the practices long ago, and then the homosexual lobby and Planned Parenthood kept them alive for centuries through the distribution of pamphlets.”

    Cara, you crack me up. Which is especially good since this is one of those things that normally makes me want to punch the wall. It’s not just this issue. It’s the fact that they can run around screaming “NOT FACTUAL!” When the curricula that they support are just a notch below dystopian science fiction. Click my name for my picasa site, which has my artwork relating to Abstinence-Only programs. And recently I’ve been going through my notes looking for what I want to do next, and I found this gem of a quote: “When you are not married, you’re not a family yet – so, don’t start family planning.” (Don’t think about that too long or it could cause brain damage.)

  3. Cara Post author

    Okay, I found that first chart to be utterly hilarious (I never knew that men get aroused from “necking,” but women can only get aroused later on from “petting”). And then, I found this one to be utterly disturbing. Sex is dirty (like germs), will ruin your reputation, is wholly separate from you as a person (“I want to make sure that you like me for me?” Because when you’re having sex, you’re . . . who, exactly?), and about vanity and shame (“I look better with my clothes on”).

    But most disturbing of all is #14: “Real men or women don’t even ask.” That’s just fucking awesome. “Kids, don’t have sex before you enter into a chaste and god-approved heterosexual marriage. But if you do have sex, make sure that it’s rape.”

    It’s a good thing I’m home alone right now, because I really feel like punching someone. Anyone else need a drink?

  4. Violet

    “But most disturbing of all is #14: “Real men or women don’t even ask.” That’s just fucking awesome. “Kids, don’t have sex before you enter into a chaste and god-approved heterosexual marriage. But if you do have sex, make sure that it’s rape.””

    Of course, the real meaning is that Real Men and Women (TM) don’t ask because they respect their dates too much to want to have sex with them, but it’s a good point. One of the most damaging things these programs do (in my opinion, from the research I’ve done) is deprive adolescents of the opportunity to get comfortable with talking about sex in any way other than saying “no” to it. Adolescents need to find their own voice so that they can articulate what they are and are not comfortable with, and what they require from their partner (like, condoms and lube and such). It does not help to give them what you want them to say, or give them an assignment where they can come up with their own version of what you want them to say. Having your own voice and being able to use it is power. (The characters on Buffy the Vampire Slayer were a great example of this. How I miss that show . . .)

  5. Cara Post author

    I absolutely agree, Violet. Given those skills, I could have saved myself a lot of pain (emotional and physical) and probably gotten out of a sexually abusive relationship as a teenager a lot earlier than I did. And I somehow doubt that I’m the only one. We’re taught that there is “yes” and there is “no,” and absolutely no option to say yes to some things and no to others.

    As for the “real men or women don’t ask” thing, yes, your description is of course the official meaning behind the phrase. But I don’t find the horrendous wording to be just an unfortunate mistake, either. They don’t WANT people to talk about sex, because like you said, talking gives people power. Asking your partner if they want to have sex instead of just assuming that they do or not giving a shit either way is something we need to be adamantly encouraging. But the anti-choice/sex crowd knows that asking a person if they want to have sex gives the person the opportunity to say “yes.” I don’t think I’m at all exaggerating when I say that the programs they run and the materials they produce show they are more than willing to uphold rape culture in pursuit of their goal to make everyone terrified of and embarassed about sex. This is just one of many examples. Another would be all of the scary possession language surrounding the “save your self for your husband” and “give your virginity as a gift to your husband” rhetoric.

  6. Cara Post author

    While it’s possible that you mean that the most sex-positive among us really ought to be in classrooms as sex educators, I feel more like that’s supposed to be a challenge “put your money where your mouth is” kind of thing. In which case, I have to say:

    1. I’m not a teacher
    2. I work part-time for Planned Parenthood, and write sex educational pieces on a regular basis.
    3. I don’t actually work in the education department or do any kind of teaching in a classroom setting. But I’d be happy to move to that department.
    4. I’m not a teacher because I don’t like teaching and have extremely little patience. If I was an English teacher, I’d probably make kids cry with my marking up of their essays. But teaching sex ed would be a markedly different experience. So yeah, I imagine that if I ever was going to teach anything, sex education would probably be my pick, and would have the highest chance of my excelling at it.
    5. But this is kind of a silly conversation, though. Because when people complain about teaching standards for any other subject, no one makes the ridiculous “why don’t you teach it?” argument. Because the high school lessons that you’re most likely to apply in the real world are apparently the ones that we have a right to feel most resentful about providing.

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