Whether it comes in the form of the long-awaited “talk” from a parent, an incredibly graphic educational film in biology class, or a furtive, giggling whisper from a friend, almost everyone remembers their first venture into the scandalous world of sexuality education: learning how babies are made. But on a scale from the infant-delivering stork to egg-seeking, tail-wiggling sperm, how accurate were those sexplanations?
With some parents too embarrassed to give their child the down and dirty details and the media depicting sex in a gritty, consumer-based approach, high school sexuality education, or sex-ed, is often education’s last chance to take a stand and provide students with an accurate definition of the horizontal tango before releasing them into the wild world of college and adulthood. Students need high school to provide an explanation of sex and its many consequences through information on STDs and pregnancy, a complete anatomical examination of the male and female genitals, the wide array of gender and sexuality identities and many other varying facets of sex. While this expectation is more than fulfilled in Palo Alto, not every school has their own Living Skills equipped with robot babies and poignant documentaries to educate the oblivious teenager.
From 1996 and its deluded implementation of abstinence education, the nation has progressed to varying levels of sex-education throughout the 50 states. According to Sex, Etc., a website that promotes teens’ sexual health, Alabama does not require schools to teach about sexuality, but when schools do, the curriculum must be abstinence-oriented, and teach that abstinence is the only way to avoid STDs and pregnancy, completely ignoring the many possibilities that condoms, spermacide and other types of birth control have to offer a couple’s sex life.
Compared to Alabama, California’s sex-education policy is basically a wet dream for those who aspire to improve national education. According to California Education Code Section 51933, all sex-ed courses must “provide information about the effectiveness and safety of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in preventing pregnancy.” This policy would get a gold star from me, if not for the fact that schools aren’t required to teach sex-ed.
Although all California public schools are required to teach HIV/AIDS prevention, the public schools are allowed to choose whether or not to teach about sexuality. If they do choose to follow the noble path of sex-ed, they must follow the comprehensive curriculum set by the state. In 2012, more than half of the schools in Oakland Unified Schools District did not choose the path of sex-education righteousness, according to a study by Oakland-based reproductive health advocate group Forward Together.
Whether by coincidence or not, according to an East Bay Express article, Oakland has the highest chlamydia rates in Alameda County. The schools’ only hope of redemption are groups like Forward Together, which gives presentations on sex-education to fill the gaping, condom-sized holes in the district’s curriculum.
Even in Palo Alto, where classes like Living Skills provide comprehensive sex education according to the state, there are groups like Great Conversations, who strive to further promote communication between families about puberty, sex, and other topics related to growing up.
Great Conversations organizes “Heart to Heart” (H2H) sessions at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital to educate children ages 10 to 12 about their bodies and how they will change during puberty. The childrens’ parents are encouraged to tag along with the children and together, child and adult undergo a pleasant, educational session about puberty and growing up.
H2H is the perfect alternative to middle schools who don’t give a dental dam about sexuality education, and its only fault is that it exists in the first place. If schools did their job properly, programs like H2H wouldn’t need to be birthed into the world.
Nancy Sanchez, Community Relations manager at the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, organizes H2H sessions. Luckily for schools in situations similar to Oakland’s, according to Sanchez, Great Conversations is in the midst of creating programs for pre-college and pre-high school teens. According to Sanchez, the programs will be ready to debut by the end of 2014.
The teenager’s quest for knowledge is fulfilled, or at least it is for those in Palo Alto. For cities unlucky enough to lack both high school sexuality education and organizations like Great Conversations and Forward together, their teenage population will soon be in danger of believing the skewed image of sex the media and parents provide. Teenage Jimmy may believe babies come from the beaks of large birds, while teenage Melinda may hold fast to the words of Coach Carr from blockbuster hit “Mean Girls”: “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die.”