Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why Teach Kids About Sex?

I'm not sure why I always assumed that sex education was about the basics of conception and how to avoid it, but talking with Alexandra Lord made clear how wrong I was.  Nor is sex ed only about preventing venereal diseases, though that has mattered more than I'd recognized.  At heart, whether, what, and how we teach young people about sex is really all about how we think about society and each other.  Do we think that sexuality is ok for some people but not for others?  Do we see sex as a source of disease and problems, or as a source of pleasure?  Embedded in these overtly sexual questions are ideas about how we think about each other's intelligence, morality, opportunities, and interactions.  We have tried to control or limit the sexual activity -- or at least the procreation -- of people we think are intellectually inferior.  We have ignored the educational needs of those we deem too "naturally" immoral to be trusted to have their sexual desires controlled at all, or we have focused only on educating them, assuming that "people like us" will behave "well" with no guidance at all.  We base our ideas about about what to teach on how functional we think other people's families are.  And we educate people to avoid catching disease because we're afraid they might infect us.  We simply can't separate out sex ed from social power, human relations, and culture. 

Of course, we've been seeing a lot of evidence of that lately, with public debates about insurance coverage for contraception and requiring invasive procedures that mimic rape before a woman can have an abortion.  Those debates reflect different perspectives not just on sex, and not just on morality, but on larger questions of who will have the power to control other people's bodies and choices. 

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