The Disconnect of Sex-Ed

Government seems to swear it is the only actor who can effectively deal with the problem of teen sexuality. But when state actors insist on asserting themselves in sex education – whether for abstinence education or birth control distribution – they unwittingly disempower teens and their families.

The Pilot presented a very fair appraisal of the political agendas that overshadow the government funding disputes over sex education in public schools in Politics Buries Facts on Sex-Ed Dispute from Saturday’s Nov. 17, 2007 edition. Offering the culture wars as the culprit of the conflict, the editorial asked for “time out for a disclosure: We think teens ought to be encouraged to postpone sex; we also think sex education classes ought to acknowledge the reality that some won’t.” Very fair, very reasonable, very common sense – noting the tug of war between state and federal governments on abstinence education or birth control education for sexually active students. Yet what is left unsaid is that when schools control sex education, teens and families are gutted, or exploited. We “make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise.”

A public middle school in Maine is under a groundbreaking proposal to offer birth control pills for 11 year olds, who would have the choice of whether or not to inform their parents. The school already offers condoms to the 6th to 8th grade students. See http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=140910&ac=PHnws. Last year, Virginia made it mandatory for 9-year-old girls to be vaccinated against the Human Papilloma Virus, which guards against cervical cancer contracted from the herpes virus. Each of these policies assumes sexual activity among very young girls. Most middle school girls, however, are still much more interested in climbing trees.

Why does the government believe it must deal with the problem of teen sexuality? Possibly because parents refuse to – or possibly because the government doesn’t really have confidence in its citizens to make good decisions. Yet parents and kids who have thoughtfully talked through the holistic nature of sexuality are more successful at holding down disease, unplanned pregnancy, and even divorce than the billions of tax dollars spent on sex education.

These parents and kids hold to a higher moral view of sexuality, one that actually affects families and family formation in an intergenerational fashion. Even the government recognizes this: according to the CDC, two of the foremost methods for decreasing STD contraction and unwanted pregnancy are 1) limiting sexual partners, and 2) staying in a long-term relationship with someone who is not a carrier. No kidding? Responsible personal common and moral sense assumes promiscuity is not a good choice, yet state mandates don’t promote responsible common and moral sense on behalf of students or their parents. Rather, a state mandate subjugates family strength and a sense of personal responsibility on the part of teens. Adults, particularly moms and dads, must be encouraged to take responsibility for the children they love by believing in them as much more than succumbing sexual beings – and talking to them about it. Character building is the stuff parenting is made of. These legislative remedies are merely attempts to strip responsible individuals of their own decision-making and autonomy.

Without government assistance – or intrusion – teens and adults can and do chose to have the safest sex possible – exclusively with their awaited marriage partner – and most likely because mom and dad have openly and positively influenced their kids in that direction. Recent surveys of teens revealed that the strongest influence in a kid’s life was not music, media, or school, but a parent.

Peer pressure on kids to become sexually active is already burdensome in high school. Laws that force it on middle schoolers reveal our deeper moral void. Legislators hope to empower students to be decent and honorable and healthy, yet they pass laws that strip those students of the ability to be personally responsible, and put families on the defensive. In his commentary on education entitled The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis noted that schools create individuals with no moral core when students are stripped of the values required to make a good decision: “Such is the tragic-comedy of our situation – we continue to clamor for those very qualities we are rendering impossible … drive … dynamism … self-sacrifice … creativity. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful.”

Governments should encourage leaving sex education to parents. Doing so will cost a lot less – and maybe empower parents and teens to make good sexual decisions that last for a lifetime.

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