When I wasn’t being blind-sided by the total lack of empathy on display at the comprehensive sex education hearing on April 1, I was dumbstruck by the purported “arguments” against updating our existing sex education law, passed in 1980, with a more comprehensive look at human sexuality and healthy relationships. I’m sorry, why wouldn’t you want your kid(s) to know what rape is? How could you not want your kids to know how to handle cyber-bullying, especially when some of them are taking their own lives to just make it stop?
For now, I will celebrate that AB230 made it out of committee this week and on to future votes (battles?). Let’s hope the momentum continues in our favor!
So, consider this the SCS primer on what AB230 (or any other comprehensive sex education bill) DOES and DOES NOT DO:
- WHAT THE HELL DOES COMPREHENSIVE MEAN: Lest I assume too much, let’s make the first stop right at the title, Comprehensive Sex Education. What is comprehensive, anyway? If you look it up on Wikipedia, you arrive at this basic answer: Kearney (2008) also defined sex education as “involving a comprehensive course of action by the school, calculated to bring about the socially desirable attitudes, practices and personal conduct on the part of children and adults, that will best protect the individual as a human and the family as a social institution. Thus, sex education may also be described as “sexuality education”, which means that it encompasses education about all aspects of sexuality, including information about family planning, reproduction (fertilization, conception and development of the embryo and fetus, through to childbirth), plus information about all aspects of one’s sexuality including: body image, sexual orientation, sexual pleasure, values, decision making, communication, dating, relationships, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how to avoid them, and birth control methods. So what does that mean? I like to substitute the word “global” for “comprehensive” and that seems to help. Detractors like to characterize “comprehensive” to mean “everything but the kitchen sink.” I don’t know what that means. I’m not sure if they are objecting to the idea that human sexuality and relationships are more complicated than a simple hetero-normative, gender-binary, marriage-before-sex, abstinence-only system provides. Or, perhaps they are objecting to the idea that their kids will learn things that they do not. I don’t understand Calculus, but if my kid is ever smart enough to tackle it, I’m 100% for it. My approach to parenting is that I don’t fear that my child will most likely know more than I do someday. In fact, I welcome it. I consider it a part of the grand design, in which parents hope that their child(ren) do better than them. To that end, I hope that my child will have all the tools needed to have a healthy, safe future.
- PARENTS DON’T WANT IT: Poppycock! This is a blatant NIMBY approach. AB230 is not creating a new standard out of whole cloth. There is already an antique sex ed law on the books. It’s just bringing it from the tapedeck era into the blue-ray era. And don’t let the NIMBY’s fool you. According to a January 2013 poll, 67% of Nevadans are in favor of sex education in schools, including teaching age-appropriate information about birth control. And the majority — we’re talking above the 90th percentile — of parents nationwide support sex education. Plus, research shows that sex education is linked with delayed first-time sexual experience. The more kids know, the longer they wait!
- KIDS DON’T WANT THIS INFORMATION (AKA YOU’RE CORRUPTING OUR YOUTH AKA IF YOU TEACH IT, THEY’LL DO IT): Actually, studies show that the majority of teens want to learn about this stuff from a reliable source. Parents first. But school works, too. In fact, 88 percent of teens said they support sex education. And need I remind you, research shows that sex education is linked with delayed first-time sexual experience. So the truth is, talking about sex does the exact opposite of making kids have sex! Talking to them and giving them the information they need to make healthy choices actually does just that… helps them make healthy choices! It can also help prevent the spread of STDs and AIDS. It can prevent unwanted pregnancies. And it can potentially save someone from remaining in dangerous situations that can turn violent, or even deadly. Look, I don’t exactly look forward to sex talks with my kid. I have the same fears that many parents do that my kid might make bad choices or wind up in bad situations. But if she does, DEAR GOD I want her to be armed with knowledge and confidence to act on that knowledge! I want to give my child a full voice in her life and the power to back it up! Why would you want anything less for your kids?
- THINGS ARE WORKING JUST FINE: Yeah right. Nevada has the fourth highest rate of teen pregnancy. Our current law, which mandates abstinence-only education, is a failure at preventing unintended pregnancies as well as informing youth about things like rape, domestic violence, sexting, cyber-bullying, and much more. A Congressional study already confirmed that abstinence-only education does not work and the American Academy of Pediatricians has recommended a comprehensive sex education approach, which includes but is not limited to abstinence education. And, let’s face it, parents don’t know everything (don’t tell my daughter!). We get intimidated about talking about certain subjects. Or, in some cases, parents just aren’t equipped or emotionally available to have those conversations. Does that mean that kids should grow up ignorant just because some parents cop-out or don’t have the latest information? I’m sorry, but that’s just stupid.
- IT TAKES AWAY PARENTAL CONTROL: Not a chance. Under the proposed changes, parents can opt their child out of sex education! The only change here is that the new law would flip parental permission from an opt-in system to an opt-out system. Currently, parents must sign a permission slip to allow their kids to take sex ed (i.e. opt-in). If the permission slip is not returned — which happens in an estimated four percent of students, according to testimony at the Assembly committee hearing on April 1 — then a student cannot participate in the class. Since 93-97% of students get permission already, what we’re really talking about is letting those four-percenters who slip through the cracks because of paperwork get in on the education. The new law would let students participate without a permission slip and require parents who refuse the class to sign them out (opt-out).
- IT INTERFERES WITH SCHOOL DISTRICT CONTROL: Right now each of Nevada’s 17 school districts operates almost entirely at their own discretion. This has caused there to be wild fluctuations in what (if any) sex education is being taught in each district, let alone each classroom. In addition, testimony provided to the Legislature during the last session (for a similar bill) showed that several school districts do not have a sex education curriculum at all. Meanwhile, school districts that do have a curriculum are limited by out-dated source material and standards that may allow some teachers to teach that, for instance, homosexuality is a “deviant lifestyle.” I happen to know two girls who go to my church who would be very upset to hear their mothers classified that way, right in their classroom, in front of all their peers. If we were to try and get all 17 school districts to pass consistent sex education standards, you are not only talking about a ridiculous amount of work and effort but the fact that kids in those districts without adequate sex education are not being served by their publicly funded school system the same way other kids are being served. That sets up huge inequities within a system that is, by definition, supposed to be leveling the playing field, not creating more and more roadblocks. If you are in favor of smaller government, it seems to me ONE bill that covers every school district is much more efficient and cost-effective than creating 17 measures to change 17 school districts.
- YOU JUST WANT TO PUSH A PRO-ABORTION AGENDA: Honestly, why would anyone do that? That’s just ridiculous. I don’t know anyone who goes around saying, “You know what we need more of? Abortions!” The fact is that under the new law, abortion would not be mentioned except in the case that a student asks about it. And if that happens, students would learn a textbook definition of abortion and abortion methods. Full stop. The end.