I have vague recollections of sex education (“health class”) growing up in the 80s. There were technical diagrams of the reproductive organs and uncomfortable snickering, but not much else.
It is now 2018 — how much has changed? In my community’s middle school, a note goes home advising parents that boys and girls will each be shown a video – the children call it the “puberty video” and anticipate it with giggles and anxiety. Parents are given the opportunity to prescreen the videos. When I did, I found them woefully inadequate as they addressed self-esteem, body odor, healthy eating, but only a cursory and disconnected discussion of eggs and sperm. For those children who are struggling with gender identity questions, we can only imagine how stigmatizing the separate videos and screenings can be.
Moreover, while NJ is often seen as providing more comprehensive sexuality education than other states, Governor Christie reinstituted the acceptance of abstinence-only education federal funding – something that Governor Corzine ended in 2006. Abstinence-only education often contains medically inaccurate information and is not effective at delaying the initiation of sexual activity or in reducing teen pregnancy.
At NCJW/Essex, and as passionate advocates for reproductive justice, we focus extensively on sexuality education. The assault on reproductive rights in our country has made sexuality education all the more important. If politicians continue to take health care and abortion services out of reach, we’d better ensure that we are teaching children and teens how to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease.
As a community, we should work towards quality and comprehensive sexuality education for all children in school so that today’s inclusive and comprehensive sexuality education is not merely a “health” class. The children who are receiving this education are learning about healthy relationships, consent, inclusion, self-care, and gender identity. Good sexuality education has the potential to make our schools kinder places where differences are celebrated and stigma is absent. Imagine a generation that understands gender identity without judgment?
At NCJW/Essex, we are continuing to look at how we can help empower parents to call on their schools for quality and comprehensive sexuality education. Resources on the topic abound – for example, check out http://www.whysexed.org/.
If what your children are receiving is anything like what my children are receiving, I think we have some work to do.