Various people have been writing about the issues with some of the content in abstinence-only sex education programs in public schools. (Calah Alexander kicked things off. Elizabeth Duffy has, to my mind, the most balanced and sensible take..)
One of the main things being critiqued is that some of these programs (not having been to or sent a child to public school, I honestly haven't studied the question of how many) take an approach to describing the undesirability of premarital sex which suggests that once you've had sex, you're "damaged goods" and there's no way back, so you might as well do whatever. Examples cited include: Once a stick of chewing gum has been chewed, no one else wants it. If someone takes a drink from a glass of water and then spits the water back in, no one else will want it. No one wants an oreo cookie that's already been chewed. Etc.
The basic message of these is: Keep clean, save sex for marriage. At some very basic level, that makes sense, but the examples represent such a simplified view they get a lot of things wrong. For instance, there's no room for conversion or repentance in these examples. If a stick of gum gets chewed, it becomes worthless to anyone else. However, no person is worthless. No matter what we've done in the past, it's always better to do the right thing in the future, and we're always capable of making ourselves more like the divine by rejecting evil and pursuing virtue.
One can say all sorts of things about how a shame culture or a dualistic view of morality is at fault for these things, but I think there's something even more basic we need to keep in mind. I'm sure we'd all agree that a discussion of sexuality should cover the whole topic: What sex is for. The nature of the human person. The purpose of marriage. Etc.
But here's the problem: Addressing the topic that way in public schools is illegal according to the current interpretation of the law. Sex education is supposed to talk about health (physical and mental) but not morality.
Since abstinence programs aren't allowed to say that sex outside of marriage is wrong, they instead try to come up with way to say that it's icky -- which most people will go and mentally convert to "wrong".
So while all these suggestions about how the topic should be addressed are great, none of them would pass muster for what's taught in public schools. They can't talk about the moral meaning of sex. They can't talk about how the end of sex is procreation and the proper context for it is marriage. Theology of the Body is verboten.
Given all this, and the fact that the enforced secularism of our public schools is unlikely to change, there are basically three options:
- Support abstinence based programs which will be restricted to making some sort of (necessarily flawed) case that having sex outside of marriage is somehow un-hygenic.
- Support "comprehensive" programs which will explain in loving detail how to "safely" insert very possible protuberance of the human body in every possible orifice.
- Support simply pulling behavioral sex-ed out of schools entirely and just coving questions of how the human reproductive system works in biology class -- which could probably use a little spicing up anyway once everyone is done dissecting frogs.
Of course, my ideal would be that we abandon the absurdity of trying to enforce "neutral" public schools at all and simply allow public funding to be spread around to any school of the family's choosing (religious or secular) so that people can pick schools that fully express their cultural and moral preferences. However, short of that, the third option seems to me by far the best.
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