CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Sex Ed Wars

Feb 1, 1995

The Australian Education Union has just proposed that AIDS and sex education classes become compulsory from the earliest years of primary school. It wants homosexuality to be taught in a “positive” fashion as well. The AEU claims that children’s rights are violated when parents, for reasons of conscience or religion, seek to withdraw their children from such classes. It even urged that these parents should be prosecuted for violation of human rights legislation.

Not a few parents (and one would hope some civil libertarians), find such a proposal unpalatable in the extreme.

What’s wrong with the proposal? First and foremost, the denial of parental choice in the education of children might be appropriate in a totalitarian society but it has no place in a free and democratic society. Parents – not teachers – have the right and responsibility to determine the content of their children’s education.

The sex education proponents who worship at the altar of freedom of choice when it comes to the abortion debate, are now denying parents this same freedom of choice. Does the AEU think that freedom of choice is only appropriate for certain groups?

Another major problem is the way the AEU wants to ride roughshod over the deeply held cultural and religious convictions of millions of Australians. Not only Christians, but Muslims, Jews and many other cultural and religious groups find aspects of sex education inappropriate or unacceptable. What does the AEU suggest? Should we over-ride such considerations altogether in order to provide compulsory sex education?

An AEU spokesman, Ms Joyce Marshall, says that AIDS affects us all, and it is “only a fringe element out there who still think it’s a gay disease”. Does she consider the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research a “fringe element”? In their latest Australian HIV Surveillance Update, figures show that 91 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV infection are male. Also, the overwhelming majority-of those with HIV acquired it through homosexual/ bisexual contact. In the Western world, HIV is still predominantly a gay-related disease.

Also problematic is the blind faith put in sex education as a panacea for our ills.

One very important article appeared in the October 1994 issue of the left-liberal American monthly, The Atlantic. The cover story, “The Failure of Sex Education” is written by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead. Sex education is not new, says Whitehead, but “never before has it attempted to expose children to so much so soon.” After chronicling the push for and more sex ed, she examines the evidence, and arrives at this conclusion: for all the money and time spent on sex education, teenage pregnancy continues to rise, as does the incidence of sexually transmitted disease.

The problem is that information alone is not enough. Says Whitehead: “Comprehensive sex education places its faith in the power of knowledge to change behaviour. But the evidence overwhelmingly indicates that sexual knowledge is only weakly related to teenage sexual behaviour.”

Two important factors, missing in most sex education courses, are needed to discourage teenage sexual activity.

One is parental involvement, and the other is emphasis on abstinence. Parental discipline and supervision seem to have a marked impact on teenage sexual behaviour, with studies finding a clear correlation between parental control and levels of sexual activity. Moreover, courses which emphasise abstinence seem more effective, especially when this message reinforces teens already practising abstinence.

The AEU wants sex education to begin in primary school. Should it? Many experts in child development think not. Children from about age six through puberty are in the latency state, a period when their sexual energy and thoughts are dormant.

As Dr John Meek of the Psychiatric Institute of Washington says: “It is clear that sexual instruction in the lower elementary grades is unwarranted and potentially destructive to a large percentage of our children.”

Dr Sean O’Reilly, Professor at the School of Medicine and Health Services at George Washington University points out that the consensus of the members of the American Association of Child Psychologists was that the child’s development is not served by encouraging sexuality at this stage of life, and that “detailed sex instruction either in the coeducational classroom or in private to pre-pubertal children is ill-advised and potentially harmful.”

Finally, Dr David Elkind, Professor of Child Study at Tufts University says, “There is far from total agreement as to whether sex education in the schools is beneficial to any age group, much less to young people approaching adolescence. One has to conclude that sex education in the schools reflects adult anxiety about young people’s sexuality. The ‘prejudice’ that early sex education will produce children with ‘healthy sexuality’ is open to serious question.”

Also, a number of studies have found that sex education tends to result in teens who are more sexually active, not less.

As just one example, the premier sex education advocate – Planned Parenthood International -has revealed in its own survey that American teenagers who have taken “comprehensive” sex education courses have a fifty per cent higher rate of sexual activity than their “unenlightened” peers.

Clearly, the problem is not one of lack of information. The problem is the eradication of any framework of values in which to make decisions about sex.

This is the real issue which the sex educators refuse to address.

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