Let me just get this out of the way up front: None of us would be here without sex. If you disagree with this statement, then I encourage you to go locate Wikipedia’s entry on “The birds and the bees.”
Nearly 10 years before Facebook invites began appearing in the inboxes of college students nationwide—before online news shook the stable business roots of print publication; before Napster dropped the thermonuclear warhead of peer-to-peer file sharing on the music industry; and before a frightening percentage of the computer-using population, myself included, figured out that using AOL (then America Online) to chat and connect to the internet is really just not cool—there existed the AOL people directory.
That was how I met Amanda, a 17-year-old Santa Fe girl with a 2-year-old son, who contacted me one day on AOL Instant Messenger because she saw in the directory that I lived in Santa Fe and shared her propensity for writing. She probably had no idea that I was in middle school at the time.
I write a lot about my weird schooling, mostly because I was graced with parents who shouldered the financial burden of sending me to quirky private schools. These schools, by and large, were pretty good about sex ed. By the time I reached high school, I took it for granted that I could tell at a glance which side of the condom went over the banana, and I knew that “pulling out” as a means of contraception doesn’t work.
Amanda hadn’t known that. That was why, at 15, she became pregnant, dropped out of high school and became a full-time single mom.
Amanda was my first exposure to the plight of teenage pregnancy, yet her situation is far from unique. In 2009, according to data from the New Mexico Teen Pregnancy Coalition, New Mexico had the second-highest per capita teen birth rate—64.1 per 1,000 girls ages 15-19—in the nation, behind Mississippi. This, at a time of economic hardship on a level not seen in this country in half a century, is a problem.
The New York City Department of Education made waves three weeks ago when a local TV station and The New York Post reported that next year’s public middle and high school sex ed curricula could include topics such as porn stars; bestiality; phone, anal and oral sex; mutual masturbation; referrals to Columbia University’s Go Ask Alice! website; and more. The DOE quickly countered that the only change was implementing two standardized sex ed programs—Health Smart Middle School and Reducing the Risk, as reported by the Huffington Post—and that parents could opt their kids out of the classes, but the debate had already started: Does teaching kids about nontraditional sexual practices encourage sexual deviancy and unsafe behavior?
No, it doesn’t. I know this is always a big shocker to parents, but your kids know that sex exists. They know that sex is a part of life, and unless you keep them locked in the basement during daylight hours, they probably begin learning about it from their peers at a much younger age than you’d like. Big deal.
Taboo sex topics are so hard to talk about precisely because they are taboo. One could argue that teaching kids about bestiality is overkill, but the truth is that any kid who’s read the Bible—Exodus 22:19: “Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death”—knows what bestiality is, even if he or she has never heard the terms “bestiality” and “zoophilia.” Besides, kids are curious. Maybe I’m biased (note: I am), but it seems to me that teaching teens the risks and consequences of their decisions—such as the July incidence of one Irish woman who died from a severe allergic reaction to having sex with a dog—would be more likely to turn kids off to risky business than inspire them to go home and try it. Whether or not they’re of sufficient developmental age to understand those consequences is kind of moot: Puberty determines when kids are able to be parents; making them wait to understand the consequences of doing what their bodies are already telling them to do seems like a recipe for disaster.
Current New York State law requires that students receive two semesters of comprehensive health education, one each in middle and high school. In New Mexico, the situation is worse. New Mexico Administrative Code 18.104.22.168 stipulates only that “each school district shall provide instruction about HIV and related issues in the curriculum.” Comprehensive sex education is not required—no condoms, no pill, nada. On Oct. 27, the Farmington Public Schools Board of Education approved a comprehensive sex ed program, which includes an opt-out option for parents. The policy change, as reported by the Albuquerque Journal, is due to 67 teen pregnancies in the district from 2009-2010. The previous policy, which had stood in Farmington for more than a decade, was based on abstinence-only education.
So yeah, clearly that didn’t work.
A friend of mine in Santa Fe—who, for privacy reasons, shall remain nameless—contributed the following: “We didn’t have sex ed until senior year of high school. When I think about it, by that point, three-fourths of our class had already had sex. Until that point, I didn’t understand that you could get pregnant when you weren’t on your period.”
Anyone who thinks kids shouldn’t be properly educated about sex can feel free to stop having sex (and also, consequently, kids) at any time.