Public Schools and Sex Ed

Think about how you learned about sex. Don’t write it here, but feel free to journal about it privately. How much of a role did your schools play in your sex education?

Then read the following two blog posts written by Dr. Laats: “Sex Sells, but Who’s Buying?” and “The Talk: Sex Ed at Us & Them.”
After journaling (or sitting there thinking) about your own experience and reading the two blog posts, respond to the following question: what role have public schools played in sex education? Don’t answer what role they should play, since that is the next blog post over. Instead, I’m interested in talking about what you think, based on your experience and what you’ve seen in schools today, the role schools play in educating students about sex.

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72 thoughts on “Public Schools and Sex Ed

  1. Similar to the blog posts, my middle school and high school spent probably 4 or 5 days on sexual education, and two of those days were just about the reproductive system and how babies are made while the rest focused on what kind of STDs one could catch and did not spend time on contraception or safe sex practices. My parents did not teach me anything about having sex except that I shouldn’t do it. My schools did the same. I was exposed to, like most other students, the “abstinence is the best practice” lesson. Compared to other subjects, schools have taken on a very limited response in teaching sexual education and are unsure of how to fix it. Because so may members of the community cannot agree on what our kids should learn in school about sex, the curriculum has largely not changed which damages students in a very sexualized world.

    • This lack of sex ed id definitely a disservice to the students. I am not sure of your area growing up but as a low-income area, the city of Elmira has ramped up efforts to get knowledge about sex out there, as teen pregnancies were becoming more prevalent, at least during my time in middle and high school. Abstinence was encouraged but not used as the only means of preventing pregnancy and STDs, given that this way of thinking was not curbing any of the growing rates of sex among students. People in low-income areas have less access to family planning services if they are even aware of them at all. Essentially, sex ed varies from area to area, and I would be interested to know more about the demographics of your area to see why the school district still (perhaps this has changed) sees abstinence as the best preventative practice.

  2. I feel as if my sex-ed experience in a public school was right in the middle of the transition from “sex is bad and dangerous” to a less judgmental and informative conversation about sex. In middle school, I had the older health teacher who was just about to retire, then the younger straight out of college health teacher sophomore year of high school, so I have seen both ends of the spectrum. I feel as if public schools give you a scary look of what sex is like–watch out for STDs and don’t get pregnant. Then in later years, my school educated us on abusive relationships and coerced sexual activity. Sex-ed in schools gives you the very surface level basic information you need, then it is up to you figure out the rest. So even though there is a lot of pressure on public schools to educate students on the realm of sex-ed, they aren’t expected to teach very deeply.

    • I had a similar sex-ed experience. I think when looking to remodel or perfect sex-ed in schools a deeper conversation should be considered. Although my sexual education went deep enough for me to make good decisions and feel knowledgeable on the subject, there were still girls in my school who were pregnant at 15, 16, 17 years old. It is for this reason that I feel that the very basics aren’t always enough for everyone. At least 15 girls from my high school were pregnant right after high school unintentionally. Although some may chalk this up to being stupid or reckless, if those girls (and guys) were given a more extensive look into aspects of safe sex, I have a hard time believing that number would be so high.

    • I agree with your transition in regards to ‘sex is bad’ to the more insightful approach on abusive relationships and sexual abuse. I feel as if the latter would be so much more beneficial to introduce to students at a younger level. If we could introduce these topics at a younger age such as the warning signs or the typical reactions then we might save students heartache down the line when they are forced to search this information out on their own after the experience.

    • I totally agree with what you are saying! I feel like sex ed is less about educating students and more about scaring students into not having sex. I think that if sex ed refocused the way in which it is taught and maybe focused more on ways to prevent oneself from getting pregnant and more realistic ways of preventing the spread of STDs then students will be better prepared for the real-life experiences. I don’t remember my sex-ed class including any relevant information on relationships, but I think that the inclusion of that could be incredibly beneficial.

    • I had a very similar experience. Sex-ed in my public school was taught in middle and high schools. The teachers I had also broke down the negative judgmental stereotype that surrounded sex. However, we were still left to figure out much of the information. Just safe sex practices, and information about STDs.

  3. Public school is an important informer of sexual education for pre-teens and teens. There are two ways in which sex is taught. The first way is to educate students on the many aspects that are related to sex such as STDs, pregnancy, rape culture, etc. The second form of sexual education is to preach abstinence. From my teaching experiences, I have found that most sexual education classes use scare tactics when covering tough subjects and making sex have a negative connotation. Also, from listening to students I have heard that some sex ed teachers are not as open as they claim to be. For example, when asked a question they tend to avoid answering or refer back to textbook answers. Lastly, some educators have not created a comfortable environment to welcome student questions.

    • I think you point out something really important which is the use of scare tactics. In almost every case of teaching sex ed, students hear about the STDs they might catch or becoming pregnant. Of course we don’t want this for our students by any means, but why are we not telling them how to prevent these outcomes or how to treat them? In school the kids learn that sex is not something they should participate in and has a negative stigma to it, but in modern culture and society, kids are exposed to the exact opposite and it can be really confusing to a student when they don’t know where to begin to answer the questions they might have especially if the teacher does not feel comfortable leaving the confines of the textbook.

    • For our generation I agree about the prevalence of scare tactics when teaching sex ed. Maybe that is borne out of the idea that teens are still developing and should not be having sex until they are ready to deal with the possible consequences. However, I hope that this idea is losing traction in schools, as we need to better prepare students for safe sex. Sex will happen with or without parental permission, so the least we can do is make sure they have all necessary information available to them.

  4. It seems to me, from what I have witnessed while in school, that the only role schools play in educating students about sex is giving them the basics information. Primarily, the rudimentary functions that are entailed in sexual intercourse. Students learn what the functions of the genitals are, their parts, how intercourse occurs, some info on protection (learning about condums,etc.), some lessons on consent, and then some vague extra information about other things involved with sex such as STD’s (i.e. “you can get this STD from unprotected sex”). Schools seem to do a somewhat decent job in covering the absolute basics about sex (everyone seems to learn at least some information), but in reality what school’s teach barely even scratches the surface about everything sex entails. They don’t cover many different types of sexual experiences (good and bad), only really focus on heterosexual sex, and don’t go very much into how sex can affect people emotionally. Like the blog posts suggest, I do agree that it is a school’s responsibility to educate students about sex; just like how school’s seem to educate students on other areas of standard knowledge. They just don’t seem to be doing a great job of it. Also as the posts stated, most kids get their sexual knowledge outside of school. It would be ridiculous if students learned, say, history in school but got most of their history knowledge outside of school. Something is clearly wrong with that. Aside from that, teaching students about sex seems like that info that could quite possibly be some of the most useful in regards to a students life and application of what they learn. Maybe it is because our society sees the topic of sex as taboo, but it seems to me that schools aren’t fulfilling their role as a place of education that prepares the youth to function within a society if they are not teaching students important information about sex.

    • I agree with the fact that schools should adopt more of a proactive approach to explaining more than just the mechanics of sex, Brandon. There are such a wide range of topics to include in sex education including (not limited to): feelings involved, the consequences of sex on relationships, and mental health too. I think the biggest issue is that sex is taboo, despite the fact that is is in video games, tv, movies, and in popular songs that are all available to our students. I believe our job is to not only to educate students about STDs, safe sex, and the anatomy of sex but to also consider information as well.

  5. Schools often do not teach enough of sexual education. While reading through Dr. Laat’s article on “Sex Sells, but Who’s Buying” he points out that there is a difference in sexual education philosophy of maximum sexual education knowledge and “just say no.” Through my experience going through both public school and Catholic school, public school definitely leans more in the “Maximum sexual education” direction than Catholic School, but it still does not address sexual education enough. While I grew up on Long Island, my experience in public school was probably more liberal than someone receiving sexual education in Kentucky. However, with that in mind, sexual education is still lacking in public education; in my experience, public secondary education has never focused on consent in sexual education, and that is a huge red flag.

    • I agree with you, Stephen: the lack of focusing on consent in sexual education may be a major deficit in today’s educational system. An incremental priority on this matter may in the future signify a major progress in preventing sexual misconduct and rape in colleges.

      • Luis, I think this is a great point – the ‘just say no’ conversation particularly skips completely over the importance of consent. I don’t remember ever talking about what happens when we say no but it isn’t respected, how to respect one another in that regard, etc. I made a point in one of my posts that overall health needs to be more of a priority of sexual education and emotional health is a huge component of that. And, of course, consent would be a big component of the concept of emotional health linked to sexuality.

  6. what role have public schools played in sex education? Don’t answer what role they should play, since that is the next blog post over. Instead, I’m interested in talking about what you think, based on your experience and what you’ve seen in schools today, the role schools play in educating students about sex.

    The experiences my peers have had are pretty similar to my public school experience too. I haven’t seen much in terms of sex education in schools today, since I haven’t been back in health or biology classes since I took them, but when I was in high school in 2010-2014, sex education was very limited. We spent ample time on looking at photos of STDs, and we were told “If you have sex, this can happen!” But we were not told too much about sex. We labeled diagrams of both female and male anatomy, but did not learn too much more about it. I left health classes with more questions than answers, and had no one to ask the questions to. The people who were supposed to be teaching us sex education (in my school, the health teachers) did not build a welcoming environment to questions. The whole “Sex Ed” unit lasted a maximum of one to two weeks, then we went back to learning about food pyramids, healthy exercises, etc. Sex education was not a huge part of my public school experience.

    • I had a very similar high school experience to you Emily! I find it very puzzling as to why when schools are given the opportunity to educate their students on sex, they chose to scare students by showing them pictures of what can happen. Like you said, there are so many topics and discussions that should be talked about in health class, but instead they are left for the students to stay confused about. I think the first step to fixing this problem is for schools to change the environment of their health rooms, to one that is more open to talking about all aspects of sex and sexual identity.

      • I’m with both of you on this. Sexual education didn’t really encompass much of what sex actually is or anything more than simply talking anatomy and STDs. I think that I can remember more episodes of “Degrassi” that my health teacher would play in class than I can about things I genuinely learned about sexual education.

  7. My school had a very minor role in educating students realistically about sex. It was presented as something adults did when they were married and wanted to have kids. Or, as something naughty teenagers did, and they usually ended up contracting some sort of horrible STD as punishment. Most of “sex ed” was spent labeling simple diagrams and understanding the basic biology of how humans reproduce. In middle school our teacher made us chant “abstinence, abstinence, abstinence” after every class, and this was the sole method we were presented for preventing pregnancy and disease. It took until 12th grade for the topic of birth control to be brought up. Even the topic of puberty was taught in 5th grade, long after many students had already begun going through the changes themselves. These classes left me more scared than anything, and frustrated that my one chance to learn about these topics in an educational setting didn’t answer any of my questions. From the reported trends I have seen schools everywhere seem to be dropping the ball on this matter.

    • I totally agree with your points Sarah! Schools have the opportunity to educate their students in a productive manner, but they too often seem to teach from a stance of fear. This can lead to a really unhealthy relationship with sex later on for our students. Unfortunately, this is preventable if schools would step up and educate students from a position other than fear.

  8. I think that regardless of the stance taken by any particular school in regards to sex and sexual education of their students, schools still have a very minor part in shaping the sexual education of a student. I took a health and wellness class a couple of years ago called Human Sexuality and a big discussion we had was about where we gather our information of sexuality. After ranking where we believe we gained the most information, we unanimously agreed that friends and media played the biggest roles in our sexual learning and development. While I think that schools offer a guideline for the way in which students ‘should’ view sexuality, I don’t believe that it is a potent role in comparison to other sources of information. I do believe that perhaps the greatest role school sexual education serves is to teach adolescents about the possible results of sexuality, including pregnancy and disease, which they may not learn enough about through other young friends and media focused on pleasure.

    • I think you make a great point that in today’s society that young adults learn about sex mostly through their peers and the media. I am curious to see what other sources that you and your Human Sexuality class talked about. How do you feel about the way schools offer these guidelines that you talk about? I am curious if you agree that these guidelines should continue being taught or if we need to alter these guidelines because of things that have changed in our world today. Besides pregnancy and disease, do you think there are any other aspects that should absolutely be taught in the classroom in regard to sexual education?

  9. I think that regardless of the stance taken by any particular school in regards to sex and sexual education of their students, schools still have a very minor part in shaping the sexual education of a student. I took a health and wellness class a couple of years ago called Human Sexuality and a big discussion we had was about where we gather our information of sexuality. After ranking where we believe we gained the most information, we unanimously agreed that friends and media played the biggest roles in our sexual learning and development. While I think that schools offer a guideline for the way in which students ‘should’ view sexuality, I don’t believe that it is a potent role in comparison to other sources of information. I do believe that perhaps the greatest role school sexual education serves is to teach adolescents about the possible results of sexuality, including pregnancy and disease, which they may not learn enough about through other young friends and media focused on pleasure.

  10. I think that public schools play the most basic role that they can find when it comes to sex education. Based on my experiences and the articles that were posted, I’d have to say that schools treat sex and most things related to it (birth control, STDs, pregnancy) as something that is really undesirable. Too often, the talk in school focuses on “how to not have sex” and how STDs will ruin your life. I would hope that at this point we, as a society, would understand that fear is not always the best teacher. As was mentioned in one of the articles, it’s pretty reasonable to assume that teenagers are having sex. Whether or not we like it, it’s happening. This makes it someone’s responsibility to teach them how to be safe and how to end up in beneficial relationships. I don’t think that schools take this part of sex education very seriously. Teens are unpredictable, so we may as well equip them to take care of themselves any way that we can. Right now, schools seem to be sitting back and waiting for someone else to teach their students about sex, but there is not always someone else to step in.

    • Molly, I totally agree with your response. I really liked when you said “fear is not always the best teacher.” I think quite often, especially with sex education, teachers and educators try to scare students into thinking one method is the best and only correct method, without telling students that there are other options and other methods in life. I think it’s a pretty closed minded outlook on life. Fear is definitely not the best route to go with sex education and I think you framed that nicely.

  11. In my experience, I had a Health teacher in high school who was committed to giving Sex Ed the attention she believed it deserved. We had about two weeks of eighty minutes classes discussing STD’s, proper condom use, and the ramifications of unprotected sex. We watched films depicting teen pregnancy, watched a live birth, and were encouraged to ask questions after every topic was discussed. My teacher showed concern for teenage sex in a way that did not seem overbearing; essentially, she was not telling us not to have sex, but to be safe if you do. Given that we had known about sex basics since 5th grade, much of the info was supplementary to that understanding, and I believe that Elmira City Schools did a fair job of increasing the knowledge of sex in students throughout the years, adding a new layer of awareness with every passing year of health class until it was no longer necessary to enroll (by about Junior year). Sure, many students giggled and joked throughout the lessons, but no one seemed to forget them, suggesting that this information is useful and relevant to students if Teachers devote time to it, and the proper curriculum is in place. As there were several teen pregnancies in my school, the district likely responded by ramping up the dialogue of sex to avoid more pregnancies, however, same-sex relations were ignored, which left many students, including some of my close friends, staring at the clock waiting for class to be over as this info was not as directly related to them.

    • Carter, I feel like your school definitely lucked out in learning what seems like a more thorough sex ed curriculum. That being said, I am curious about how in depth some of the “non-basic information” was gone into. Were the movies about teen pregnancy realistic? Though students were encouraged to ask questions, did they actually utilize that time to do so? Was the more emotional side of sexual education touched upon? Things of that nature. Though it seems like the info they provided to students was in a greater amount and depth than most schools provide, do you feel like they did a good job or could have done better in some areas? It makes me wonder as well if they were merely trying to prepare against any future teen pregnancies since you mention that could be the case for the sex ed program being more extensive. But all in all, that seems good that so much effort was put into the program. Hopefully more schools will follow their example (and maybe Elmira will eventually include homosexual sexual information someday).

  12. Based on my experience in high school and what I have read/seen in other schools, sex ed is taught in its most basic form. That is, being taught about the science parts of sex. I was taught about the male and female reproductive systems, what sexual intercourse was, and all the bad things that could happen to me if I had unprotected sex. I think my school took an approach that tried to scare us out of having sex. I specifically remember looking at pictures of STDs and watching a movie about unplanned pregnancies and how they “ruined” young girls lives. While our health teacher told us she was teaching us about sex, looking back I feel she was more so trying to scare us into remaining abstinent. I also remember that our teacher gave us time to write questions down on index cards that we had about sex, but she never ended up going over these questions we had. Rather she focused on the bad that comes out of having sex. The sex ed part of my health education lasted about 1-2 weeks, and then we moved on to other topics such as exercise and eating right, which were viewed as more important. Overall, I think I ended up being more confused than anything, after “learning” about sex.

  13. Ninety-nine percent of the sex education that I received at my high school came from ninth grade biology. We learned about the reproductive system, some human anatomy and endocrinology, sexual selection, the basis for fertilization, and finished by watching a natural birth, but that’s where the conversation ended. In twelfth grade health, the teacher told us to wear a condom and to make sure it wasn’t too old to avoid unplanned pregnancy or an STD. The rest of the health curriculum was devoted to CPR certification and watching movies. Basically, the school seemed to take no stance on sex and left it to students/ parents to control sex education. In contrast, the school where I substitute teach has an extensive sex ed curriculum in health class; students are required to know minute details about STD progression and prevention in addition to treatment. Ironically, my high school had zero teen pregnancies (that I had heard of) whereas the school with an extensive sex ed curriculum typically has one each year. I find it interesting that there is no real standard for sex education in New York public schools, considering that the state regulates almost everything else in curricula.

    • Come to think of it, I had a similar experience in terms of the relationship between health class and biology. We too learned most of the mechanics of reproduction (and endured the birth video) in Living Environment as opposed to the class where it would arguably make more sense. Though I’d like to note that my high school did have a few pregnancies, despite the similar education.

    • This is interesting to think of the link of the type of education offered and instances of pregnancy within your school. I went to a smaller school and we had a pregnancy probably every couple of years, if not every year. I can’t remember ever having more than one at a time. However, I remember some of the girls being very open about how they got pregnant, and one was unaware that antibiotics would affect her birth control. She was young enough to not have taken health yet (a sophomore) but I’m not sure that she would have learned that anyway. This seems like the sort of important information we need in health classes. On the other hand, however, another girl was a senior and I believe it was her choice. She was raised in a family where this was not abnormal and she is now married to the father – I think we have to remember sometimes that there are cultural/family differences and sometimes pregnancy is not negative for these people.

  14. What role have public schools played in sex education?
    In my experience in high school, many of the health teachers but save one or two reminded me of the coach in the movie Mean Girls who tells all the people that if they have sex they will die. The health teachers told us about the body parts, about the diseases we could get (STD’s and STI’s) and we discussed things about family-linked diseases and our family history. There is very limited knowledge about the sexual part of our lives that we will at some point experience, and if there had been, maybe the school I went to wouldn’t have had so many teenage pregnancies. I myself could have benefited from learning about more things like pregnancy, sex, and other details pertaining the female body in health class, which was not discussed. There was one health teacher in my 8th grade class who was very open about the adult world and focused our lessons on learning what to do in the situations where we will have sex, or do drugs, or try alcohol. I remember she told us “I can’t force you to wait until marriage for sex, or 21 to drink. I highly advise you to wait until you’re older to do these things but let’s talk about if you do, how to do it safely.” The role that public schools play is more of “abstain” than anything and honestly I don’t think that helps anyone out in any situation.

  15. In my experience, public school was the place where most students received the least amount of sex education. I attended a “puberty talk” in fifth grade where we separated by gender and put into different classrooms to talk about our “changing bodies,” and “hair down there,” for two hours while us 10 and 11 year old students attempted to stifle laughter and stick the feminine hygiene products to each other that were provided to us in a goodie bag. The next sexual education incident I experienced was in 7th grade in my health education class (taught by my formidable gym teacher). Essentially, we were taught that abstinence was the safest way to avoid STDs, unplanned pregnancy, and broken hearts. We were never taught how to use condoms or what other forms of birth control there were. We never once discussed sexuality or anything aside from the dangers of sex and how evil sex was. Naturally, this led many students I went to high school with to explore sex in unsafe ways. I feel this is the completely wrong way to go about the “sex talk” with students. There is a way to promote abstinence for the sake of more conservative-minded parents and community members while at the same time acknowledging that sexual exploration can be done in a safe and healthy way. Regardless, it is 2018 and most kids are seeing sex in the media more than was ever seen in the early 2000s. Aside from the media, kids are also learning about sex from their peers. So in comparison and in my experience, the small amount of sex education I got in middle school was arbitrary. I saw and learned much more from my peers than I ever had from school.

  16. From my experiences growing up, sex education was extremely limited and there appeared to be a strong negative stigma around being sexually active. In my 6th grade health class, we were split by gender to talk about puberty and how puberty will soon begin to affect us if it had not already. We talked about this for one day and that was it. They talked to the male students about our private parts, body hair, facial hair and our voices. In terms of sexual activity, we were told that if we were sexually active in any way, we should let our parents know so that they are aware of what we are doing. (Obviously no one wanted to tell their parents). I did not again hear about sex education until I took my high school health class for one whole semester. In this class, there was a brief overview of the private parts of both males and females. This lesson led into mostly a lecture about abstinence being the most effective way to avoid STDs. I do remember learning briefly about oral and vaginal sex and what STDs could be transmitted through these actions. Overall, I would say that I have not seen any strong programs of sex education whether that be in my schools or the schools I have observed. I do believe one difference that is extremely important in the role of sex education today is the media and the internet. When I was younger, I did not know what was out there on the internet and did not create any social media sites until about 9th grade. Today, many students are on social media and the internet as young as 10 years old and are bound to see posts about sex and things related to sex.

    • Wow your school waited until 6th grade to talk about puberty? Mine brought the topic up for the first time in 5th grade and I thought that was late! My school like yours also split us up by gender for the puberty talks. Now thinking about it I wonder if there would have been some benefits of having the discussion with both genders together rather than separated. I understand students may be more inclined to talk and ask questions if they are separated by gender, but I know I had a lot of questions about what males went through during puberty and had to wait until 8th grade for these questions to be clarified. Also, for intersex individuals or those confused about their gender it may be beneficial to learn about both male and female changes at the same time.

  17. From my experience, I remember little to no discussion or education about sex in my years in public school. There was a mandatory semester of Health class that included a unit on sexual health, but I can only remember that as being informative in the most basic sense. It was really only the information that regarded the mechanics of sex, and the ways in which to protect yourself from pregnancies or STDs. Other than that, that specific unit only seemed to focus on informing us of the specific types of sexually transmitted diseases there were, and essentially scaring us with the seriousness of those diseases. While that was important information for us to have, I don’t think that there was really any information or discussion of the information that helped to ease the discussion of the topic and probably a lot of the fears and questions that we, as adolescents, had. I think that right now and in my childhood, the only information that students receive in school about sex ed is the very basics. This, I believe does little to nothing in helping students develop or understand their own sexual identity.

  18. My only exposure to sex ed was in middle school. The lesson took 2 or 3 days. The boys were split up from the girls, and the two groups had a lesson given to them by a teacher of the same gender. We learned about the reproductive system and STD’s and how to practice safe sex that is unlikely to result in pregnancies or STD’s. Our teacher also talked to us about natural feelings or urges that we might be feeling when going through puberty, and did his best to normalize those things. He also allowed for us to ask questions about anything we wanted related to sex, so it was a positive experience in terms of the openness that was conveyed to us regarding questions we had. However, I realize that this usually isn’t the normal experience in schools. From what some of my friends have told me, their sex ed was limited to the medical side, focusing on the reproductive system, and how you can avoid pregnancies.

  19. From my recollection of high school sex ed, our teacher crammed every form of contraception into 2 days, and then spent almost 2 weeks talking about abstinence. It seemed unnecessarily drawn out to dedicate that much time to the null option. Plus, it felt a little condescending. I remember the teacher at one point suggesting that instead of having sex, you and your special someone should go get ice cream instead. Okay, sure. But we could also get ice cream before/after having sex, so how do we put on a condom?! We live in an age when information is just a click away, so realistically whatever students are not being taught in the classroom, they are learning via the internet, television, romantic partners, or other sources.

  20. In my opinion, public schools have not played as active of a role in sex education as they could have. Based on my previous experiences, health classes in intermediate and high school have talked about the bare minimum in terms of sex, such as practicing it safely, condoms, STDs, and the biology behind it. However, most of the information students are learning about sex is outside of school through talking to friends and viewing media, and I agree that schools should do a better job of keeping their students better informed about sex. Many schools such as mine seem to take a “hands-off” approach and teach abstinence, but it seems to be the easy way out so that schools can move on from the topic of sex as soon as possible. The little information that I have been taught about sex has always been about heterosexual sex, which, as Chapter 9 states, implies that other forms are not legitimate. All in all, schools have not been giving sex education nearly as much attention as other subjects in school.

    • I happen to agree on your stance, because I can only recall very little from the few lessons that occurred from these lessons. My question is what other aspects do you believe should be added from these parts you call the “bare minimum?” I only say because I can only think of the matter of consent and one’s sexuality. I also agree on the matter that some teachers always forget the other types of sexual relationships and this leads these relationships, besides the heterosexual one, being seen as weird and somewhat taboo.

  21. In my opinion, public schools have not played as active of a role in sex education as they could have. Based on my previous experiences, health classes in intermediate and high school have talked about the bare minimum in terms of sex, such as practicing it safely, condoms, STDs, and the biology behind it. However, most of the information students are learning about sex is outside of school through talking to friends and viewing media, and I agree that schools should do a better job of keeping their students better informed about sex. Many schools such as mine seem to take a “hands-off” approach and teach abstinence, but it seems to be the easy way out so that schools can move on from the topic of sex as soon as possible. The little information that I have been taught about sex has always been about heterosexual sex, which, as Chapter 9 states, implies that other forms are not legitimate. All in all, schools have not been giving sex education nearly as much attention as other subjects in school.

  22. In my opinion, public schools have not played as active of a role in sex education as they could have. Based on my previous experiences, health classes in intermediate and high school have talked about the bare minimum in terms of sex, such as practicing it safely, condoms, STDs, and the biology behind it. However, most of the information students are learning about sex is outside of school through talking to friends and viewing media, and I agree that schools should do a better job of keeping their students better informed about sex. Many schools such as mine seem to take a “hands-off” approach and teach abstinence, but it seems to be the easy way out so that schools can move on from the topic of sex as soon as possible. The little information that I have been taught about sex has always been about heterosexual sex, which, as Chapter 9 states, implies that other forms are not legitimate. All in all, schools have not been giving sex education nearly as much attention as other subjects in school.

  23. In my own personal experience, sex education was done pretty well in my school. We spent a fair amount of time on it when I was in middle school, and then even more during my high school health class. We learned about STDs, how to protect yourself, various forms of contraception, etc. We were never discouraged from engaging in sexual activity; our teachers just told us that it is much better to be safe if you are going to become sexually active. We got the necessary resources to be safe (not that the teachers were handing out contraceptives, but we knew where to get them) and our health class spent a lot of time talking about planned parenthood and how you can utilize that resource. I don’t think this is the case in a lot of schools, especially as you move toward more rural areas of the country. I can imagine more of an emphasis on abstinence as the area you are in becomes more religious as well. I doubt most students received the sexual education that I did. Schools have different values and are quite often influenced by the community; sex ed doesn’t seem to be particularly regulated by the state. I can imagine parts of New York that don’t give their students the quality of sex ed that I got.

  24. Public schools have not played as active of a role in sex education as they could have. Based on my previous experiences, health classes in intermediate and high school have talked about the bare minimum in terms of sex, such as practicing it safely, condoms, STDs, and the biology behind it. However, most of the information students are learning about sex is outside of school through talking to friends and viewing media, and I agree that schools should do a better job of keeping their students better informed about sex. Many schools such as mine seem to take a “hands-off” approach and teach abstinence, but it seems to be the easy way out so that schools can move on from the topic of sex as soon as possible. The little information that I have been taught about sex has always been about heterosexual sex, which, as Chapter 9 states, implies that other forms are not legitimate. All in all, schools have not been giving sex education nearly as much attention as other subjects in school.

  25. The predominant part of my education was in Catholic school growing up where sex ed was distinctly lacking. Abstinence only was the main point that our teachers stressed. It was incredibly confusing growing up as the only rhetoric taught was that sex was bad and to quote Mean Girls, “You’ll get pregnant and you’ll die!” Things like sexual diseases or even the basic changes our bodies were undergoing weren’t mentioned. That mindset was damaging then as many of the upperclassmen would get pregnant or get some kind of STD as the rumors would go. But now with the internet being available to children so young, the information they get on the internet will directly contradict religious instructors and undermine the entire educational process. I’m indecisive about the age, but an open dialogue is crucial for children as they come of age.

    • It is interesting for me to compare my small rural town public high school experience to yours in a Catholic school. While my school could not say that they were following christian principles outright, there was still the hidden curricula that alluded to these ideals. I am wondering why this is so, as my school did not need to stick strictly to abstinence. However, it may be that the parents in the surrounding area were mainly conservative and it was what was expected of the teacher, as the parents are the ones who pay the teachers’ paychecks.

  26. Based on my own experiences, sex education in public schools is relatively short and focuses primarily on the basics. Every discussion I ever had about sex in school, whether it was in middle school or high school, took place within a single unit in my health class, which I was only required to take for half of the school year. Not only that, but the conversation itself was extremely limited. We really only ever talked about what sex is, what the reproductive organs are and how they function, and the consequences of having unprotected sex– like early and unwanted pregnancy, and the risk of catching and/or spreading sexually transmitted diseases or infections. So, what I was really learning was the bad parts of sex, and the ways to protect myself against them. The number one defense? Abstinence. I feel as though my health classes really pushed abstinence, which seems to be a trend throughout public schools (as the blogs indicate). I remember even having to sign a contract for my health teacher saying that I would remain abstinent until I was at least 18, or until I was married. She kept telling us after we signed it that if we broke the contract we were hypocrites, which isn’t something we should strive to be in life. How twisted is that? This kind of thing leads students to go out and find out things about sex for themselves, since clearly they cannot go to their teacher with questions or concerns, in fear of being judged, or even called a hypocrite. It was not until I reached college, and took a human sexuality course, that I actually engaged in meaningful discussions about sex, which included talking about the nuances of gender, sexual identity, pleasure, desire, and love. Thus, in terms of the role public schools play in educating students about sex, I would say that in terms of primary and secondary education, public schools play a very short and negative role, while higher education seems to play a better, more informative role (but of course, you would have to find the right school and the right classes to receive this).

    • It blows my mind that teachers want to shame their students. I agree that it creates an environment where you don’t feel comfortable talking to their teachers. Where do some kids then go to find their answers? The internet can be one source, and without an educator to guide a student, there is a bunch of misinformation out there to further confuse them. We shouldn’t shame students to follow abstinence, and we shouldn’t force kids to sign a contract where they feel ostracized. I am a huge proponent for comprehensive sexual education.

  27. I’ve participated in several different school districts and have found that each district approaches sexual education fully knowing the risk involved. I remember two instances when parents needed to sign permission slips to attend the workshop. These specific instances were approached differently. Boys and girls were separated at one and the other involved a group information session. Men taught the male group and women taught the females. Information presented covered personal cleanliness that ranged from brushing teeth and deodorant to washing clothes and styling hair. Hair was the opening into the uncomfortable discussion for my young male group during the two sessions. We were told not to cut the hair or worry that it would make anything different about who we were. I could see the teacher wasn’t comfortable but he continued by scientifically explaining, puberty, conception and intercourse. Eventually, a cartoon depicting those elements was played and a question and answer period followed. Slowly the idea of responsibility was highlighted and a stressed importance regarding respect emerged.
    I experienced other schools used a health class for sexual education. Basic information about contraception, diseases and the effects of childbirth were discussed. It depended on the questions students posed but this teacher also addressed emotional attachment with sex but didn’t cover the topic too profoundly. While this may seem like a progressive step for a teacher, other teachers felt the progressive step was sending students towards a guidance council.

    • I recall a similar experience to the one you describedthat I myself went through in elementary school. In 4th grade we were separated boys and girls, and to this day I’m not sure what the boys talked about but us girls were shown a video of a bunch of girls at a sleepover and one of them gets their period, and the following morning the mom makes the breakfast meal into a lesson by making the pancakes into the female anatomy and talking to them about the changes to the right body. It was extremely weird and then after the video the teacher who was a woman talked to us in a similar fashion you described, and then we didn’t talk about it until 5th grade where we learned about both genders in our science class and had to fill out a diagram and everything. I think the most impressionable thing I remember from all that is not only the werid analogy with pancakes but the fact the 4th grade event was so hush hush, the boys kept trying to peek in and no one talked about it after. Like we weren’t supposed to, which only made things weirder. I get that kids won’t get it and will be weirded out by it all but the way my school went about keeping it so secret was kind of weird. Your comment about the progressive things is interesting because I never thought that going over those topics would be considered progressive, just because I myself feel this is a topic we should go over with students greatly and with detail to help them understand all that there is.

  28. In terms of “sex ed”, I remember that it was never taught for an appropriate length of time. In fact, it was sort of jammed into one day during science class or health class. In fourth grade, the boys were taken into a room and the girls were taken into another room. From what I can recall, we just learned about the male sexual organ and what sex is. I believe “sex ed”is a touchy subject, due to parents of the students feeling uncomfortable to have the talk with their kids. Also, I was around ten years old and it was not until high school that we went over “sex ed” a little more in depth. I believe it was two weeks about what sex is, how to be prepared when having safe sex, and for women, ways not to become pregnant. However, by two weeks, I meant two classes, which were 45 minutes each. From these memories, Thus, I have a general understanding of sex. However, I believe schools are still following a similar type of format and it might leave students either curious, confused, or even a mixture of both feelings. I don’t believe schools have a stance for “sex ed” from my experiences, but it is not treated as important to teach, when compared to other topics or subjects.

  29. When we look at how sex education has been taught in the U.S. two diverging views come into light. The first is the “health and autonomy” faction which believes that children should be taught sex to its fullest extent so that they can learn to control their own sexuality. The second faction is the more conservative approach of “just saying no”. These folks believe that by choosing to overall not engage in sex is the only solution and that sex-ed should look at the bare minimum when it comes to educating children about sex. When I went to school I was presented with a mix a of both of these positions. In 8th grade health I was exposed to sex education to its fullest extent with all aspects of what sex entailed down to the pleasure it can bring. What is interesting is that once I took health again in 11th grade I had a different health teacher who was much more conservative on his approach to discussing sex-ed and only went into the biological aspect of how the child is made. The teacher constantly implored us that the only way to be safe was to not have sex until marriage and never mentioned safe sex practices. Unfortunately from speaking with relatives who attend the same school this conservative approach is still prevalent in my old school and students are left without the knowledge they need to practice safe sex.

    • I am really interested in the idea of “health and autonomy” you mention here. I see health and sex education has a potential means of teaching students about personal power and self-respect. It seems like your middle school experience was more informative than your high school experience. Do you have a guess why that might be? I would guess that administrators are less worried about middle schooler’s choices and expression, and more worried about the consequences of high schooler’s choices. It could just come down to educator’s personality though. What do you think?

  30. Since the early 1900s, most public schools have started including sex education in their curriculum. The focus tends to change based on what is happening at the time, i.e., the Aids epidemic and the rise of STD’s. Heated political rhetoric constrains most schools into limiting what they allow into sex education classes. Nowhere has this been truer than at my own high school. I found the statistics in the posts we read, that students learn so little of their sexual knowledge from school (5% and only 6 hours/year), to be reflective of my high school. From what I remember there was not a lot of instruction, just the basics in reproduction. I’m showing my age, but high school was twenty years ago for me. I remember the arguments about what other people thought should be in the Sex Education curriculum more than any direct instruction I received. More recently, I remember my two oldest children, who are both currently in college, talking about sex education in health class. It was very basic, just one day centered on the reproductive system. Nothing had changed in twenty years. I have heard that some other public schools around the area go into a bit more detail and discuss puberty. I suppose every school is a bit different depending on the climate of their district.

  31. I remember sex ed in middle school more clearly than in high school. I remember that our middle school health teacher smoked cigarettes in her car, and that our high school health teacher was an avid tanning-bed subscriber. As young students, we found it funny and obnoxious that the things we were warned against were all used in some capacity by the adults that told us not to partake. The same thing went for sex ed. I remember it being a mostly respectful, 1-2 day experience with diagrams and biological explanations. It was also completely irrelevant at that point, most students were learning about sex from internet and other class mates by then. We were told over and over again about the horrors and shame of STDs, which I think just made people ashamed of clinic visits rather than selling the importance of getting checked. But most of all, we were told how serious and how risky sex was by adults who were most certainly having it, even outside the context of “marriage”-gasp. You can imagine how seriously their message was taken…

    • My experience was fairly similar. My high school brought in someone from planned parenthood, but it was obvious she didn’t want to be there. Her lesson was rushed, she did not welcome questions, and made the whole topic uncomfortable. With her lack of interest presenting in class, why would I think they would be more welcoming or helpful at the actual clinic? To top it off, our health teacher was extremely religious so after she left he drilled abstinence into our brains and made it seem like sex was always a bad thing outside of marriage.

    • Its funny how similar our health classes were in middle school. My health teacher was also an avid smoker and yet he was also the health teacher and coach for the football team and would constantly tell us to stay clear of drugs and from smoking. Yet here was this man who was doing the complete opposite and I think that confused a lot when we found out he smoked. Its not right that teenagers should feel shamed if they have to or want to get tested for an STD and I am thankful our teacher did not teach in way that made us feel that way, but informed us of the dangers of unprotected sex and of the resources that we can use to prevent it and reach out to if we made a mistake.

  32. In middle and high school, I feel that sex ed is only scratched on the surface. In middle school, my health class was every other day for one semester for one year, and in high school, my health class was every day for one semester also for one year and was only for juniors and seniors. There are so many other topics to cram into this short time period in which I think sex ed is commonly not looked at as much. Yes, the whole STD and pregnancy part was pushed in class and it creates fear in students which generates the idea that sex is more negative than positive. It wasn’t until I went to college, took Human Sexuality, and was a REACH peer when I felt that I was educated (in class) and was able to educate others (REACH peer) about more than only negatives. I understand why more of these topics like birth control, PREP (HIV protection pill), Plan B, etc. are talked more about in college because we are “older,” but sometimes I wonder, what if students don’t follow the same path as me and don’t participate in health classes in college. Sex ed from middle and high school shouldn’t be the only “formal knowledge” students have to base off.

    • I agree with you, Jessica, about how sex education in middle and high school only scratched the surface and could have done much more to keep students informed on both the positives and the negatives. I also had health class for one semester in middle and high school, and now that I think about it, mainly just the risks of sex were focused on, as you mentioned. I did not participate in REACH nor take any health classes in college like you did, therefore the subpar sex education that I had before college was the only learning in a classroom that I have had about it. However, I believe that what you have been taught in college about PREP, Plan B, etc. should also be taught in high school because everyone is different. Many students might need this information while still in high school, and others might not go to college so they will never get this information formally.

  33. In my experience, a health class was offered for half of the school year for high school students. The course did cover a wide variety of topics in promoting one’s overall health, while covering some topics related to sex education. Given that the course was offered for half of the year, I feel that sex education was not covered as extensively as it should be due to the time constrain. Topics regarding the human anatomy, puberty, STDs, safe sex practices, among others were briefly covered. Abstinence was always promoted as the best effective practice in avoiding early unplanned pregnancies and from contracting STDs. In regards to the role that public schools have played in sex education, I do not think that public schools in general have had that much of an impact in teaching sex education and tend to focus primarily on heterosexual relations. Nowadays, much of the sex education takes place outside of classrooms, as young teens rely on the internet as a source of information.

    • José, I agree with your assessment that sex education should be covered much more extensively. Like you, I remember learning about puberty, anatomy, STD’s etc. However, there was not much time invested in this important topic. Also, you mentioned that abstinence was promoted as the best way to avoid any negative consequences of having sex. This was the same at my school. But, it seemed as though the goal was to make us scared to have sex. That is to say, fear was the tool through which abstinence was promoted.

  34. From my experience, sex education within the realm of public schools consisted of learning about the different ways the body changes during puberty and how to have safe sex. However, there was not much time invested in these lessons. In fact, I believe it was about an hour long class that only took place one time. But, I do still remember learning the biology behind how one becomes pregnant, viewing very detailed diagrams of body parts, and seeing graphic images that depicted what certain STD’s and STI’s looked like. Looking back, it seems that the goal was to put so much fear in us that we would not even attempt to have sex. In fact, I remember being pretty fearful after seeing those haunting images. Sex seemed to an absolutely terrible thing. I really don’t remember if we learned about the use of condoms. This was a very long time ago! However, I do remember the instructor emphasizing that “the only safe sex is no sex!”

    • Hi Chris, it seems like your experience has been similar to most other posts- very rudimentary and simple in terms of the “biology” of sex. Abstinence as the answer seems like a common theme as well. While this was not exactly my experience, I also received very basic information. It almost seems like they forget to or rather neglect to tell us anything after puberty.

  35. From my experience, sex education within the realm of public schools consisted of learning about the different ways the body changes during puberty and how to have safe sex. However, there was not much time invested in these lessons. In fact, I believe it was about an hour long class that only took place one time. But, I do still remember learning the biology behind how one becomes pregnant, viewing very detailed diagrams of body parts, and seeing graphic images that depicted what certain STD’s and STI’s looked like. Looking back, it seems that the goal was to put so much fear in us that we would not even attempt to have sex. In fact, I remember being pretty fearful after seeing those haunting images. Sex seemed to an absolutely terrible thing. I really don’t remember if we learned about the use of condoms. This was a very long time ago! However, I do remember the instructor emphasizing that “the only safe sex is no sex!” I really do not have much personal experience pertaining to how sex ed is taught in schools today. But, from what I understand, sex ed has had relatively little changes over the years and could be done better.

  36. In my experience, sex-ed was taught from the “health and autonomy” position or, as “Understanding Youth” describes it, the “how it works” position. Sex-ed was first introduced in fifth grade when classes were separated into boys and girls to have talks about puberty and changes students could expect. We did not have our first health class until eighth grade, which is when we first learned about sex. The next time a health class was required was not until our senior year of high school. For both 8th and 12th grade, the sex-ed portion of the health class curriculum was maybe two or three weeks long at most. We learned about the anatomy of male and female sex organs, the functions of each part, and how vaginal intercourse works, as well as STD’s and various forms of birth control. I believe this is fairly consistent with how most schools in the US teach about sex. They introduce sex as first, the individual parts required, then how they work together and methods to prevent STD’s, even if the method chosen to teach is abstinence. They aim to give students the facts about sex, although some schools may leave out more of the facts than others. The idea seems to be that students are first introduced to sex in school, however, we know that students get their knowledge about sex from various sources including the media, their friends, their families, and more. The role school plays is to clarify students’ prior knowledge about sex and refine it by giving them facts and logistic ways to begin to wrap their head around something that they are otherwise expected to figure out on their own. However, in how “Understanding Youth” suggests, sex-education in schools might end up leaving students with even more questions.

  37. My personal experience about sex educations in school in old Mexico consisted in receiving the traditional heterosexual perspective. Alternatives to such binary perspective were out of the norm for us. One could hear about homosexuality only in the schoolyard our neighborhoods.
    I cannot opine on the state of affairs in the public education when it comes to sex education. My elementary, middle, and high school upbringing was not in this country. My best guess is that just as in Mexico, schools here contribute very little in promoting healthy sex behavior to youngsters. And after reading the above blogs, I conclude that such matters are treated as mere political issues and that nothing is being done at the legislature level.

  38. I believe the Public School system has a very important role in educating youth about Sex Ed. My parents, if they ever talked with me on the topic, kept the conversation short and to the point. I do not know about anyone else’s life, but the information I gained from my Sex Ed classes was invaluable. I had gotten pieces of information about topics such as STI’s through my peers, but the detail that was made aware to us in our public high school was more than I believe I could have ever compiled for myself. I am very fortunate my school had such a good system in place and that I was not just left to figure everything out for myself.

    • I agree with the point of how important having good Sex Ed classes is. I wrote something very similar to in my response. I also heard tons of stuff through my peers, but I’m not sure how accurate they really were. This is why giving kids good Sex Ed classes is so important. Especially with such easy access to the internet, kids can find a lot of false information very quickly. I feel like schools should feel responsible for educating students with the correct information.

  39. My sex ed experience has been extremely limited in the public school system. My first encounter with it was in the seventh grade. Back then, I was attending school in Grenada where all schools whether public or private had religious affiliation. I remember them separating the boys and girls into two groups, but only having conversations with the girls( I still don’t understand this at all)! There they spoke about the menstrual cycle, STDs and the importance of abstaining from sex. Looking back, I realized that the way in which they presented the material was used more as a scare tactic than to educate us. They wanted us to fear sex, and they turned it into a completely barbaric and unnatural act. As I moved further on with my education, my knowledge about sex did increase, but not from school. I learned more about it through friends,the media and over hearing “adult conversations.” In the tenth grade, I took a health class where there was a unit on sex ed. In this unit we talked about the function of sex, different sexual identities, and watched a woman giving birth. This information was and still is important to know, however they never really went in depth, and never talked about real life situations that could happen. Whenever a student would ask a question that deviated from the norm, the teacher would always tell them to stop fooling around or to stay on task. Sex ed in my experience was much more centered on biology and mechanics rather than desire and pleasure, which I felt/still feel like is problematic.

    • Similar to Shania’s first part of her response, I had a similar separate group talk in fifth grade. However, we only spoke about the menstrual cycle and nothing else (understandable because we were all 10). When my health class spoke about STDs and sex ed, I was in high school then. Reading Shania’s response when she spoke about how they pressed the focus of their sex ed on abstinence and that “sex is an unnatural act” made me think of the Mean Girls movie scene where the gym teacher says “Don’t have sex. If you have sex you will get pregnant or die.” I feel that if your school presented an abstinence only sex ed ideology, I wonder how other abstinence only schools present their view on sex. Do they say its “unnatural,” do they not even mention sex at all, or do they present it like they did in mean girls: that it’s a death sentence? When Shania spoke about the sex ed that she received in 10th grade where she mentioned that they watched a woman give birth, I didn’t have that. Instead, we watched that movie in my Living Environment class. I think my school did this to separate the idea of pregnancy from my health class so it didn’t have to be watched/mentioned/talked in depth again. They wanted to show it as a science topic instead of a health topic. When I got to high school health, we mentioned STDs but not different sexual identities. This is similar to what Shania said about her school not wanting to deviate from the norm. Since my school didn’t focus on other sexual identities, the norm was a heterosexual relationship. Overall, I agree that Shania and I both had sex ed experiences that were more biology and scientifically based rather than desire and pleasure.

  40. I definitely remember my school endorsing the “sex is bad and dangerous” philosophy on kids. It is so important to make students aware of the negative implications sex can have, but that does not stop students from partaking in it. Abstinence can be infinitely stressed, and it was, but that does not mean that it will become a reality for students. Sex should be more normalized in school and there should be a larger focus on how to be safe during sex so that students are not so ignorant. Students tend to take health class as a joke in high school because they are not talked to like adults because schools are afraid of normalizing sex and talking about it in any sort of positive way. If mature conversations can be had between teachers and students and amongst students about sex, then I think students would take it more seriously and get more out of it.

  41. In school, I learned about safe sex. However, we only learned about heterosexual sex practices. On top of that, the focus was on how to prevent STD’s. I always hallow back to “Mean Girls” where the P.E. teacher is teaching health, and he says “Don’t have sex because you will get pregnant and die.” He then proceeds to give out condoms. Here lies the issue in sex ed. kids are confused, and we often don’t take serious time to address these issues. When I went to college I actually became a sex educator, and my god even at that level people were confused and scared. Also, we are doing LGBTQ+ students a huge disservice. The only time I remember talking about LGBTQ+ was in reference to HIV/AIDS. I am a proponent of comprehensive sexual education. It has been proven time and time again that abstinence-only education is not effective, and in fact, places that have that type of sex ed lead the country on teenage pregnancy. My sexual education was lacking for sure since once I started to teach it I was shocked at how much was left out. The school I am at does have a health class, but I haven’t seen any of the curricula. From what I have heard it seems more encompassing than my secondary school experience.

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