Just Don't Do It!
Are we teaching our kids way too much about sex? Or not nearly enough?
One of the few points on which all sides agree is that the best way for kids to learn about sex is from their parents. "Talk about sexuality openly and honestly from the beginning," says Sparrow. "Be the most important, reliable, trustworthy source of guidance for your child--not just giving the mechanics of reproduction but that part of caring about and understanding another human being."
Workable answers? The notion that schools could please all the parents all the time by offering both types of sex ed classes is an idea most experts say is not financially feasible--particularly since many parents would want something in between.
Many believe religious organizations should provide part of sex education, and many do, almost always in the context that sex should be saved for marriage. But some have a more comprehensive take, such as the Unitarian Universalist Church's OWL ("Our Whole Lives") program. "It's much, much more," says Pam Luttig, 47, who has two children in OWL. "Sexuality is bigger than sex. Just as important is relationships, intimacy, making decisions." Adds Unitarian minister Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing, "It's not just about sexual behaviors like making love and masturbation. It's about values, friendship, dating, marriage and committed relationship, sexuality, being safe, body anatomy, puberty, sexual language, unintended pregnancy options, defining and redefining abstinence." The first lessons are taught by trained teachers during Sunday school for 5-to-6-year-olds. "It's age-developmentally appropriate," she says. "We say all families are special without talking about a romantic, sexual attraction." In fourth, fifth, and sixth grades, the program introduces issues such as sexual orientation. We talk about values and respect. The next program--offered to seventh, eighth, and ninth graders--is 27 workshops."
The workshops, says Luttig's son Caleb Stoltz, 15, teach kids to think for themselves and about others. "They're not saying, 'You have to be abstinent or else.' They kind of say, 'Save it. It's worthwhile to do it with someone you love.' "
Roffman has come up with a plan that could be called comprehensive-plus. "One of the reasons the Christian right is so mad is that teachers are not allowed to talk about religion in school at all," she says. "That is absurd. Religion is a cornerstone of our society. We should say, 'We have to raise children in the world in which they are living, but we will insist that your religious views are heard.' " She adds, "Present the controversy while still giving the facts. Present it as part of your lesson. Say, 'Masturbation isn't harmful; some people do, some don't, and some religions believe it is a sin.' Better to say there are a range of beliefs and not pretend that there is only one point of view. "
Besides, Roffman notes, the world in which they live is brimming with information. "The same child that gets an abstinence-only education can go on the Internet and see not only the word; they can see sex." And the parents may never know.
Says Coleman: That kid "could be the unknown sexpert of the teenage world."