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May 21, 2008

Abstinence Only Sex Education: A teacher's viewpoint

Cassie I know that a lot of people have opinions on sex education.  Whether those views have religious ties or whether it is because parents don't want their children exposed to certain things until they are ready, there is no question that most of the sex education programs in this country are Abstinence Only Sex Education programs.  Despite the fact that pretty much every major health organization in America has opposed this type of sex education program, they are still out there in our schools and many parents and administrators still seem to think that these are the best types of programs. 

I am not a health professional or an expert on sex education programs.  I couldn't even find all of the statistical information that I wanted to find while trying to do some research for this post.  So I don't want to try to force an opinion on anyone, I just want to give another viewpoint (one that is different than many that I have heard anyway), an example of an abstinence-only class that I witnessed with my own eyes, and maybe just  something to think about. 

I taught at a school last year that only taught Abstinence Only Sex Education.  It was a special program that was sponsored by one of the local colleges.  Mentors came into the classroom and talked to the students for about an hour a day once or twice a month.  Needless to say, I don't think that this was enough in the way of sex education to begin with, but I digress.

The students in the school, students as young as 4th grade I might add, had a lot of "sexual misbehaviors."  Several students had been caught having sexual relations on the playground, in the bathrooms, or even in the woods right behind the school.  One of the high school teachers, who was also an EMT, had delivered 9 babies of students at the school in the last decade that he had worked there. It was definitely the kind of school that needed a sex education program.  Just telling kids "Don't do it" when clearly, they already were, was not going to get the point across.

Yet, they chose to go with the Abstinence Only Sex Education program.

I think the biggest factor for choosing this program was because it was free to the district, and they didn't have enough funding to hire a Sex Ed teacher (or P.E. coach, guidance counselor, or aides for the  Special Education program either, but that is a rant for another day).  Even if they had been able to afford to hire a Sex Ed teacher, I feel like they probably would have still gone with an abstinence only program, as many schools (including the one where I attended high school), still do. 

For the most part, whenever the people from the program would come to teach, I would take that hour as a planning period (since otherwise we didn't have one).  One day, though, I decided to sit in and listen to the lesson.  I heard a conversation that day that I will probably   never forget.

*Jake*: "How do I know if a girl that I am having sex with has AIDS?"

Teacher/Mentor: "Well *Jake*, this is an abstinence only class.  We are supposed to be talking about abstinence, so we have to assume that you have not had sex and will not have sex until you're married. So there is no reason for me to answer that question."

WHAT!?

I was shocked.  I thought the teacher/mentor's response was  completely inappropriate.  It didn't even qualify as an answer.  Obviously, this little boy shouldn't be having sex yet, but if he has  these kinds of questions, I think it is safe to assume that he is having some kind of sexual contact.  He needed an answer, and was brave enough to ask this question.  It wasn't a joke, the other kids weren't giggling and whispering to each other.  They were listening.  They needed an answer.

I wish I could say that I had stepped up and said something, or at least talked to the student after class,  but I didn't.  I was new, I had no idea if it was my place or not, or if I could get in any kind of legal trouble by saying anything (I assumed  that was another reason they had an outside group teaching sex ed).

I even think she could have made her case better if she had said,  "Well, *Jake*, there is no way to tell if a person has AIDS just by looking at them.  That is why we should be very careful what we do with our bodies and that is why we should try to save sex until we are married.  Then we won't have to worry about diseases."

But she didn't.  She basically ignored him, which (in my opinion) probably led to him thinking that it just wasn't that important or that he shouldn't be too worried about it. 

I'm not saying that every 6th grader needs to hear this information.  Many kids that age are still more sheltered and aren't likely having  sex of any kind, but with sex on television and everywhere else, I don't think that abstinence only sex education is always the way to go.  Students need to at least have access to more information if they need it. High schoolers especially need to be aware of STD's and  AIDS and how to protect themselves.  Ignoring the possible  consequences of having sex out of marriage will not help anyone.   

Of course it should be the parent's jobs to teach their kids about sex when they think they are ready, but in many cases, this is just not happening.  Obviously, this was a school that desperately needed a sex ed program that was comprehensive and did a lot more than said "Just say no."

Because as most parents know, telling kids not to do something, doesn't always keep them from doing it.


*The name of the student was changed.*

This is an original Deep South Moms blog post.

Cassie also blogs at Southern Domestic Goddess.

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