We are creatures born of sex, and after millions of years of ingrained procreative instincts, we are nothing if not sexual beings. As a species, the importance of our sexuality can be traced throughout history and cultures: bloody wars have been waged, grand structures have been erected and epic movements have overturned the status quo, all because of sex. With such magnitude associated with our sexuality, problems can quickly arise when this sexual birthright is left to bungle about without direction or when external forces seek to outrightly suppress it (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996); because, unfortunately, knowledge and understanding of one’s sexuality does not come pre-packaged with the accompanying genitals (we may be born with the equipment, but that certainly does not mean it comes with attached instructions on its proper use and care). We must recognize that future generations rely on their predecessors to instruct them in the ways of the world, especially when it comes to the labyrinthine realm of human sexuality, but like any worthwhile maze, opponents to progress hide behind every corner.
In a 2014 article, popular blogger, Matt Walsh, champions the opinion of a squeaky-wheel minority, declaring that sex is just too big to fit into a public school curriculum. He argues that because sex is so huge and so different for all 7 billion individuals in this world and all the billions that have come before, government-funded education should avoid the subject altogether, except for the bare-bone essentials of reproduction that can be covered in Biology class, along with frog anatomy (2014). Perhaps he has a point. Sex is so much more than just one body part going into another body part. For many, past and present, sex can be a spiritual connection with their partner(s) and/or God (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014; Walsh, 2014); it can be used to wield power, form a lifelong commitment, exact revenge or just killing time on a Tuesday afternoon. It can create feelings of joy, anxiety, fear. It can change our lives forever with one test result or it can be forgotten as quickly as last week’s dinner. Sexuality creates so much a part of what makes us human that maybe, as an educational goal in public schools, sex is just too big of a subject to adequately cover. How could we possibly expect one class to encompass what sexuality is, what sexuality means, and what sexuality can be in just a handful of hour-long sessions. Herein lies the problem: to set human sexuality aside as an island of information unto itself without recognizing its influence on every aspect of humanity, we misunderstand that our sexuality actually creates the core of the human experience (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996).
Within the world of education, many topics cannot be honestly and effectively taught without conveying the basic concepts of the weight and depth of human sexuality. Art, for instance, relies entirely on the expression of the human condition for its existence. Shakespeare’s verses, Michelangelo’s sculptures, Mozart’s operas and Petipa’s ballets mean nothing but facts on a page unless we understand the inspiration behind the works: the universal emotions that all artists attempt to capture and convey to the world. Even beyond the touchy-feely domain of art though, most subjects must deal with sexuality at some point. Governments have riddled societies with laws attempting to regulate sexuality, religions have dictated approved and unapproved sexual behavior, history is a battlefield with sexual vice and virtue, while health, medicine, and psychology recognize the profound effects one’s sex life has on one’s well-being (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). We have an immediate need for greater comprehensive sexuality education in our schools so that we can fulfill our potential as human beings.
With such magnitude, should government keep their hands off this precious subject and let it be handled in the home, with parents who can effectively convey their values and expectations to their children (Walsh, 2014)? In an ideal world, absolutely. Parents are an essential resource for children’s depiction of the world they live in (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014). However, the society we have created forces its sexuality on all ages these days, despite parental intervention. On one end, sex is attractive, cool, fun, adult; but on the other, sex is taboo, dirty, shameful (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). Parents should be the first step in deciphering this bombardment of conflicting influences for their children, but when many parents have received less instruction about sexuality than their internet-savvy teenagers, we end up with a destructive cycle of ignorance (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014; Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). To stop this cycle, we need properly trained individuals in our public schools who can effectively direct our youth to the beautiful middle ground of these two hectic worlds the media portrays to us. In fact, many parents would prefer that professionals take over the role as the primary sexuality educators (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996).
Overwhelming numbers show that the majority of Americans believe that sex education should be taught in public schools (Bruess & Schroeder, 2014; Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). However, despite this data, a vocal minority continues to keep the door securely shut against instructing our youth about their sexuality (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). We have created a society that believes gun ownership is a right and as long as one has the proper training in functionality, care, and appropriate use, one would generally consider a person responsible enough to operate such a powerful weapon. So while gun ownership is treated with reverence, genital ownership is often treated with shame due to the conflicting media messages surrounding our youth (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). The equipment given to us as a human birthright can be just as powerful and life-altering as any gun. Yet the concern we have towards educating our youth in the proper use and care of their sexuality, borders on reckless. We would never hand a child a loaded weapon and say, “This is for you to use later. Not now. In the mean time, while you’re waiting, here’s Google if you have any questions.” No matter how many safety locks you switch on, youth will be tempted to pull the trigger on their sexuality whether they are prepared to or not (Hedgepeth & Helmich, 1996). So why should we not, as the knowledgeable adults, prepare them every way we know how? A great way to do this is not to set sex apart as its own hour of instruction, but rather find every possible way to weave a sex positive message into the daily education of our students.
So to Matt Walsh and your squeaky following, I must agree with you that sex is just too big for one classroom. It fills every corner of our lives whether we intend for it to or not. As such, we need to grant space in our children’s education to allow them full exploration in the questions of human sexuality. The internet-age is here. The knowledge is out there. Shouldn’t a knowledgeable, caring individual, with our youths’ best interests at heart, shape and provide the answers they are desperate to have, rather than hoping that a machine knows the difference between real answers and smut? I love the wealth of knowledge at our fingertips, but when it comes to future generations, Google is a gamble I am not willing to make.
Bruess, C. E. & Schroeder, E. (2014). Sexuality education: Theory and practice (6th ed.). Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Hedgepeth, E., & Helmich, J. (1996). Teaching about sexuality and HIV: Principles and methods for effective education. New York, NY: New York University Press.
Walsh, M. (2014, December 11). No thanks, public schools. I don’t need you to teach my kids about sex. The Matt Walsh Blog. Retrieved from http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/12/11/no-thanks-public-schools-dont-need-teach-kids-sex/