The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported on a high school in Mullica Hill, NJ, that is drawing criticism from concerned parents over their peer-education sex ed program. These parents have organized and even created a Web site for parents to sign a petition and get a look at the “very graphic” curriculum their teens are being subjected to. Some of the “disturbing” material chosen for its particularly lurid content, includes information on things that kids don’t know about (masturbation), things they should never know exist (condoms) and things they should never consider (tolerance of the LGBT community).
Depressing and intolerant as that may seem, students and parents in other communities are taking positive steps toward education, such as a group of teens in Utah who lobbied their senators for full disclosure in sex ed.
In addition, not all parents are as reactionary as those few in Mullica Hill, NJ. In fact, some open-minded and involved parents are becoming advocates themselves, such as a group of parents in Pittsburgh who have started a petition for comprehensive sex ed. They are supported in their efforts by the ACLU of Pennsylvania.
In a warmer part of the country, Palm Beach County, FL, has realized that abstinence-only programming won’t help their state’s teen pregnancy woes; they are set to enact in April a sex-ed curriculum that teaches sixth graders about STD’s and seventh graders about condoms.
Peer education is taking off on the West Coast as well. In the San Fernando Valley, one program, Promoting Alternatives for Teen Health, is a peer-to-peer curriculum aimed mainly at poor Latinos. I wonder if the concerned New Jersey parents could look at the grim statistics on HIV infections and pregnancy rates amongst these teens and still insist they shouldn’t learn about condoms.
Another grim reason for increased sex education: unprotected oral sex may be more dangerous than originally thought. A recent study links unprotected oral sex to certain dangerous side-effects, including some rare throat and mouth cancers that previously were seen mainly in older heavy smokers. We can therefore expect to see such anomalous cancers in youth become more common if abstinence-only programs continue to preach a message where sex is shrouded in mystery and protection is never discussed.
Marshall at Duvall