Just say 'no' to 'modern sex-ed'

Posted: Sep 09, 2003 12:00 AM

We didn't mean to turn our son into The Outcast.

Last year, he was the only ninth-grader in his school whose parents opted him out of the county sex-education classes. We opted out our two other children also (one in middle school, the other in grammar school) and we've done so again this year for all three.

Yes, we probably subjected our eldest to some ridicule. After all, the high school required my son to check in each day – in front of his peers – before he went to the library for his "other assignments."

My husband and I take the blame for the ridicule because we're the ones who made him opt out. We didn't know until too late that our son had to check in each day – you can sure bet we're fighting that requirement this year. But win that battle or not, we have very good reasons for opting out all our children again this year – reasons you may want to ponder if you have students of your own.

First, we shouldn't have to opt out of sexual education. We should have to opt in.

Second, the state should focus on teaching our children history, literature, science, mathematics, etc. Providing kids with information on sex – beyond a few rudimentary facts that could be taught in biology class – is our job as parents.

Third, sex ed, as most school districts implement it today, doesn't work. Programs that focus on "how-to" information do nothing to reduce teen sexual activity, cut sexually transmitted diseases or provide the moral underpinnings our kids need.

You hear otherwise – that we need to "get real" with young people who are bombarded with sexual images, that our only hope is to teach them how to curb disease and pregnancy through condom use, that they need to embrace, rather than control, these new feelings that come with puberty. Malarkey.

What schools should be telling our children in health or biology classes is that sex outside of marriage is harmful, and just plain wrong. They should also be equipped with ways on how to say "no." This approach works. The growth of true abstinence-only curricula, spurred by demands from parents, is credited with reducing the overall rate of sex among teens from 56 percent to 46 percent in the last 10 years. My colleague Robert Rector notes the best abstinence-only programs reduce teen sexual activity by up to 60 percent.

Why? Girls tell researchers the main thing they want to know from sex-education is how to say "no" without hurting boys' feelings. Not how condoms work. Not how to practice "outercourse." Not a primer in the use of body oils. They want a way out, and they want adults to affirm that getting out is right.

What they get are programs so disingenuous their very names are lies. They're called abstinence-plus, or abstinence-based, but they're not about abstinence. They're about the mechanics of sexuality. They suggest teen couples shop for condoms together and mark down the store's hours lest they be caught unprepared. In a recent op-ed, Rector tells of a program that lists ways teachers can show kids as young as 13 "how to make condoms fun and pleasurable."

These programs offer extensive instruction in how to "satisfy each other" short of intercourse – showering together, full-body massages, etc. Does any rational person think these activities make it less likely they'll graduate to intercourse?

What doesn't work is what the "educational establishment" has been pushing for 30 years – "frank discussion," "role playing" and "starting young." Barbara Dafoe Whitehead, an academic who focuses on family issues, proved as much in a scathing review of "comprehensive sex-ed" that was published in the Atlantic magazine. She focused on New Jersey, which pushed this approach early and aggressively and has the dismal teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease rates to show for it.

"Research does not support the idea that early sex education will lead to more-responsible sexual behavior in adolescence," Whitehead writes. "Nor is there reason to believe that franker communication will reduce the risks of early teen-age sex."

In fact, she says, the opposite is probably true. In 1980, 67.6 percent of teen-age births in New Jersey were to unmarried mothers – 11 years of enlightening comprehensive sex ed later, the figure had jumped to 84 percent. And that's the comprehensive-sex-ed folks' showcase.

Like three-fourths of the parents in a recent Zogby poll, I want my kids told "no" to teen sex, not instructed on how to do it and escape the consequences. If your school isn't telling your children "no," then I suggest you opt them out. Better your kids be an outcast for a few weeks than the victim of an unexpected pregnancy or STD for life. One day, your children will thank you for it.