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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Sex Ed

My last post was two months ago. I've been busy.

This afternoon, going through my grandson's backpack, I saw a couple of words in his distinctive scrawl that caught my attention immediately. My grandson is 11, in the 5th grade. I don't expect to see school papers, or personal papers for that matter, that include the words  "penis" or "vagina." Certainly not both. I flipped through the other papers stapled together. Clearly this was part of a science lesson on AIDS, but I couldn't remember seeing anything about it. If I had, it was so long ago that I'd forgotten it.

I called the school and got the principal, fresh off dismissal duty and no doubt tired, but not too tired to talk to a concerned grandparent. He assured me that yes, permission slips had indeed gone home with every student. I assured him that either my daughter had signed one, or I had - and forgotten. "The papers are incomplete," I told him, "but we can go over them at home." Click.

Later, I took the papers into my grandson's room and pointed out that some of the vocabulary match-ups were wrong. I wanted him to have the correct answers. When you're talking about genitals and STDs, you don't want your grandchildren walking around with the wrong ideas.

Not like you did, yourself.

I remember the library where this happened, so I was either in the 5th or 6th grade (still an elementary grace back in the Mesozoic Era). I commented that something was very gay, and was chastised by a worldlier classmate. I am fairly positive that this was the first time in my life I got a hint that "gay" might have earthy, even naughty, overtones. I thought it was about being happy.

Did I go home and ask my parents about it? Of course not. I got my sexual education from a book my mother kept hidden at home. Since I eventually did most of the housework (she worked full-time), I would discover the book while putting away laundry or dusting the bookshelves in the family room, take a break, and glean pearls of wisdom. The book was Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex* But Were Afraid to Ask, by Dr. David Reuben, which came out when I was 12. (It was in paperback by the time I got a hold of it, however.)

Like the all-you-can-eat buffet patron who was sent away..."But I thought it was all-you-can-eat for $10!"  ...and the owner says, "That IS all you can eat for $10!" ... the title was appropriate. What I wanted to know WAS everything. Dr. Reuben's book was quite the education, but it was all theory. Actual practice took things to an entirely different level, but that wouldn't come for quite awhile. (I was a late bloomer, as they say.)

So 5th grade THEN had not prepared me for facing 5th grade NOW. Do 5th graders need to know the information that was in the lesson? This particular packet was aimed at AIDS. I think that's important information. AIDS can kill. AIDS was one of the factors that led to increased sex education in the school system - awareness is key. And, as we should all know now, it isn't just a problem in the homosexual community. We're all in this together, obviously. A sick community does no one any good.

Sex ed increased in the schools. Did that cause an increase in Bad Behavior? Surprisingly to some, no.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, teens are waiting longer to become sexually. From 2006-2008, 11% of girls polled in the 15-19 age range had had sex, compared with 19% in 1995. And 14% of the guys in the same age bracket were virgins, down from 21% previously. They gave reasons based on religious beliefs, morality, a desire not to get pregnant, and not wanting an STD.

For those who haven't ever opened a magazine or taken my grandson's 5th grade Science class, an STD is a sexually transmitted disease. Kids having sex lack maturity to go with those hormones, and sometimes have sex without using "protection" (i.e. condoms). If you've ever picked up a brochure at the health department, however, you know that promiscuity snowballs:

That's mind-boggling, isn't it? A dozen different sexual partners, who each have a dozen different sexual partners, and things get out of control very, very quickly. Kids are supposed to have the be-jeezus scared out of them by such information, and "Just Say No."

It would seem that the plan is working, at least to some extent. Not enough - half of the STD cases reported each year, according to the Center for Disease Control, belong to patients between 15-24 years old - but information is not the bugaboo demon some people have painted it to be over the years.

Sex education isn't as modern a thing as one might assume. Even before the turn of the century (the 20th, not the 21st) pamphlets were circulated, speeches made, mostly about the evils of masturbation. The World Wars gave the country an increase in STDs, however, and sex ed started getting a better rap. It was a health issue, after all.

There were critics, of course. Some felt that the birds and the bees were most appropriately taught at home, by stable and loving monogamous parents by the name of Ward and June Cleaver. Reality wasn't as effective. Schools got in on the push for prevention of sexual abuse, STDs, teen pregnancies, and more.

There was also a concern that educating school kids about condoms and homosexuality would increase both in society. An argument could be made for this, I suppose, but the increase of Trojan sales and gay pride has more to do with society in general than sex ed at school.

All this to say that at one time, I might have withheld permission for my kids to have the lesson at school. I homeschooled for 12 years, remember. I think I could handle - and did - discussions about sex. I don't remember these discussions, however. I probably didn't say enough, or do enough. Maybe I subconciously knew that because I was doing more than leaving a book ill-concealed, that would make up for the lack of a power point presentation or anatomically correct dolls.

But now it's grandkids. I want my grandsons, especially, to learn how to treat young ladies, how to choose young ladies who act like young ladies, how to be respectful. I want them to grow up knowing that sex is this awesome, unbelievably wonderful gift from God that has important boundaries set NOT to rob them of fun, but to safeguard their physical, emotional, even spiritual health and happiness. I want them to fall in love and have no baggage when they give themselves completely to the object of that love.

I want my granddaughter to realize she must respect herself, or young men will not. I want her to know that not just YOUNG men look at her (she is very pretty, and very curvy, at just 15) and that there are some very, very bad guys. I want her to learn there are guys who know the value of manners and a good work ethic, who are sensitive and have a great sense of humor. I want her to know that when a man says, "If you love me, you will..." he doesn't have a clue what love is.

It has been said that men say "I love you" in order to get laid, while women put out in order to hear those words. I don't know. I think we're all just hungry for connection, for love, for intimacy. Kids today may have a better working vocabulary of the terms and parts, but I'm not at all sure they're learning the more important things. Put a group of teens in the room and chances are, they're not talking, but texting and checking out Facebook. Which is fine. But it's so not intimacy.

I wasn't upset by the materials I saw from the school. I took the unfinished paper into my grandson's room and corrected some of the errors with him. He didn't seem particularly interested. He's 11. I'm okay with that. It sounds trite to say that I want to protect him from predators and from getting his heart broken, that I just want him to fall in love and be happy, but I don't mind sounding trite. Sex is too important to be reduced to coarse jokes and R-rated movies. It's too important to learn from the wrong people, those who have selfish interests and agendas. Who use other people and throw them away.

I heard once that God never intended anyone to come into your life, mess it up, and then walk away. It was during a talk about sexual purity, and it stuck with me despite the fact that I haven't always been sexually pure in thought or deed. There is a high standard, and it comes direct from the Creator. Who loves whom - that's not the issue here. What I'm getting at, is that the reason there are such high standards is because it's that important. God is love, the Bible says, and while that doesn't mean the opposite - love is not God - it does say to me that love is God's domain, a priority. He uses the marriage relationship to explain his love for his people. It matters. It should be, and I believe it can be, the best thing on earth when two people in love enjoy one another completely. But that doesn't happen because you've had a course at school.

Sex is one thing; intimacy is what we thirst for when it isn't there. And they don't teach that at school, pretty sure.

(c) 2014 Ellen Gillette