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Sexual Ignorance

So it seems that out brilliant state legislature has passed a bill that allows schools to stop teaching sex ed. From the Salt Lake Tribune:

“To replace the parent in the school setting, among people who we have no idea what their morals are, we have no ideas what their values are, yet we turn our children over to them to instruct them in the most sensitive sexual activities in their lives, I think is wrongheaded,” said Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden.

Groan.

In Utah, this is doubly stupid, because kids and parents already have the choice to opt out of sex ed if they’re concerned about what moral values are being imparted along with basic biology. Of course, this presumes that schools are really teaching “morals” and “values,” when, for the most part, they aren’t. Just this past year, I accompanied my twin boys Cornelius and Corbin as they attended their first “maturation” lectures, wherein any talk of values and morals gave way to discussions about when and why they should start using deodorant. I suppose a stink-free body is a value, but that’s pretty much as far as the school’s moral advocacy goes.

I doubt sex ed has changed all that much since I had it way back when, and I’m pretty sure sex itself hasn’t changed. While societal mores on the subject are markedly different than they were when I was first learning all the boring goodness re: sperms and ovums and the like, there are basic facts that every child ought to know, and those facts ought to be taught in school. Removing those facts from the school curriculum does not negate them, nor does it make it any less necessary that children learn them.

Oh, you don’t like those facts? Well, I don’t like algebra, but I’m not going to tell my school to stop teaching it.

I agree that it would be ideal if all parents had the time, ability, and confidence necessary to teach such things to their kids. Barring that, I think a really boring biology class is a much better place to learn this stuff than on the playground with that weird kid who has a mustache at the age of twelve and tells girls that they can get pregnant from sitting on a dirty toilet seat. Nixing legitimate sexual questions from approved academic discussions teaches values, all right – it teaches children that they should be ashamed or embarrassed when they wonder what’s happening to their bodies. It teaches them to trust urban legends and breathless rumors. It creates a taboo which mystifies basic biological facts and thus leads to Beavis-and-Buttheadism, where immature boys giggle whenever they hear the word “penis.”

(Huh huh. “Penis.” Huh huh. Huh huh.)

I think back to my own spotty sexual education, and I recall a discussion with a kid named Danny in the back of our station wagon on the way home from Little League. While my mom listened to the radio, Danny, in hushed whispers, told the rest of the carpool that we could go into a drug store and buy a condom any time we wanted to, and that he had done it once, or at least tried to, but then he decided he couldn’t go through with it.

I listened with rapt attention, not having the slightest idea what a so-called “condom” was. I could tell, however, that it was dirty and forbidden, but I had no idea who I could ask about it. And NO WAY would I have brought it up with my parents. In contrast, I would very much like my own children to know what a condom is and to be given that information in a setting where the straightforward, clinical explanation of same won’t pique their curiosity. Treating facts like really exciting secrets is a much greater enticement to misbehave than simply telling the truth.

That principle applies, incidentally, whether you’re teaching sexual biology or the sexual “values” and “morals” that have Senator Stuart Reid’s panties in a bunch. (Huh huh. “Panties.” Huh huh.) Allow me to share a somewhat embarrassing personal example.

When I was eleven years old, I received a copy of a pamphlet titled “For Young Men Only” written by Elder Boyd K. Packer of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It explains that young Mormon boys should be aware of something. I read the thing from beginning to end, and, for the life of me, I had no idea what that something was. Here are some of the more pertinent paragraphs.

I wish to explain something that will help you understand your young manhood and help you develop self-control. When this power begins to form, it might be likened to having a little factory in your body, one designed to produce the product that can generate life.

This little factory moves quietly into operation as a normal and expected pattern of growth and begins to produce the lifegiving substance. It will do so perhaps as long as you live. It works very slowly. That is the way it should be. For the most part, unless you tamper with it, you will hardly be aware that it is working at all.

As you move closer to manhood, this little factory will sometimes produce an oversupply of this substance. The Lord has provided a way for that to be released. It will happen without any help or without any resistance from you. Perhaps, one night you will have a dream. In the course of it the release valve that controls the factory will open and release all that is excess.

Now you, who are, in all likelihood, a literate, reasonably-educated adult, can read that and probably get a sense of the idea that Elder Packer is dancing around. Now try reading that to an eleven-year-old boy and see if he has the first clue as to what on earth you’re talking about. What little factory? What valve? What life-giving substance? Dreams about what? Is the factory unionized?

Again, other than the unionization issue, those were my questions. I didn’t understand this had anything to do with sex. (Then, as now, I considered the manufacturing sector to be wholly unerotic.) Had Elder Packer, or anyone else, been blunt enough to use real words and not tortured industrial euphemisms, it would have spared me a tremendous amount of unnecessary shame and embarrassment.

Now, is it true that some people might get the wrong message from a sex ed class in school? Sure. But my point is that people get bad messages when they’re out of school, too, even if the source supposedly shares your morals and values. I think, as a general rule, more information is better than less, and eliminating sources of legitimate information is not a good thing.

That’s why Mrs. Cornell and I talk about this stuff with our children as soon as they’re curious, with our oldest, Cleta, inquiring around the tender age of five. We hadn’t intended to address the subject that early on, but when she came to us with questions, we answered them openly and frankly, doing everything we could to give her no cause to be embarrassed. At the time she asked these questions, she knew that her aunt and uncle, who I’ll call Carl and Celia, were struggling in their attempts to get pregnant.

“So that’s where babies come from, huh?” she said.

Yes, we assured her.

“You know,” she mused thoughtfully, “someone ought to tell Carl and Celia about this.”

Moist No More?
Mormon Momentum

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