By Shiantel Chiang & Karen Li
*Update: On May 3, the FUSD Board of Education held a 10-hour-long meeting to decide if schools should implement the proposed Sexual Health and Puberty Education curriculum. Board members voted 3-2 in favor of adopting the new curriculum for seventh through ninth grade, but voted 2-3 against adopting it for fourth through sixth grade. A task force will convene and propose a new curriculum recommendation to the Board by January 2019 for implementation in the following spring. This means that there will not be any sex-ed education for elementary schools until then.
FUSD’s recently proposed sex-ed curriculum, titled Comprehensive Health, Puberty, and Sexuality Education will now be taught to students from fourth to eighth grade. Parents at the FUSD meeting on March 14 expressed opposition towards the inclusion of detailed diagrams on the reproductive system and content on sexual orientation and identities. Dissatisfied parents launched an online petition on Change.org against the proposal; protests attack the detailed nature of the curriculum and the early exposure of certain topics.
However, they fail to recognize the importance of giving children an educational environment to better understand their own body, health, and relationship to sexuality and wellbeing.
A concerned comment highlighted in the petition states that the curriculum’s “excessive sexual language is SEXUALIZING our children, and will subject them to undue influence and unnecessary harm.” Parents may fear that the curriculum sexually objectifies children by exposing them to unnecessary details about the their own body. However, as the curriculum states, students in fourth to sixth grade will learn “functions of at least two parts of the biological female and male reproductive system” and how “puberty prepares the human female body to reproduce.”
The curriculum does not sexualize children by teaching them about important aspects of their physiological body — they will learn about their reproductive system just as they would learn about any other body system in science classes. Parents that view basic information about bodily function as sexual in nature exemplify how society still treats the topic of sexuality as taboo.
Along with understanding the primary purpose of the program, parents should recognize the deeper benefits of an in-depth curriculum on sexual health during elementary school.
According to a 2014 analysis of the FBI’s Incident-Based Reporting System, for ages 5 to 19, teens aged 12 to 17 reported the highest number of on-campus sexual assault incidences. Fourth to sixth grade is therefore the most crucial time for children to learn how to deal with these situations. Many parents believe this will taint childhood innocence; however, they should understand the important role that candid education plays in combating sexual assault, which can have emotionally devastating consequences, especially at such young ages. Students will be more responsible with their body; they will then be better equipped to recognize sexual harassment, or signs of an unhealthy relationship.
Reproducing and enforcing silence around bodies will also enforce silence around sexual assault. Instead, if students have information and confidence around how to talk about their bodies, and if environments are created in which they feel comfortable doing so, the cultural silence around sexual assault will be reduced.
Contrary to what parents may assume, understanding the human reproductive anatomy does not direct children toward unhealthy sexual decisions. Researchers in Singapore studying the 2008 to 2009 National Survey of Family Growth found that teens ages 15 to 19 who received comprehensive sex education were 50 percent less likely to experience pregnancy than those who did not. Furthermore, in a study by the National Campaign to End Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 60 percent of comprehensive sex-ed programs in the US were effective in reducing unprotected sex and 40 percent delayed sexual initiation.
Clearly, these comprehensive sex-ed programs did not promote unsafe sex or increase teen pregnancy rate; allowing students to learn about their bodies led to increased sexual responsibility. Conversely, students lacking sexual education may not be able to identify positive and negative sexual behaviors, and might therefore lack the tools to think through their boundaries and areas of comfort/discomfort
The sex-ed program will also reduce bullying of LGBTQ+ on school campuses. The curriculum recognizes the “spectrum of gender, gender identities, and sexual orientations” and “define[s] sexual orientation and its most common categories.” Learning about different sexual orientations and gender identities in a classroom serves two complementary purposes: it reduces the isolation of LGBTQ+ students who are hiding their LGBTQ+ identity, and gives non-LGBTQ+ peers a chance to think about how the slurs that they use might affect those around them. Leading students in self-discovery gives them the knowledge and confidence to resist the sexualizing and objectifying impulses of others. This is especially important in an age where “nearly 29 percent of LGB youth had attempted suicide at least once in ,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, with the increasing amount of misinformation online, the Internet can prevent a solid comprehension of sexual health. It is crucial to provide students with trustworthy resources. According to a 2013 Kaiser Women’s Health Survey, 28 percent of teen girls ages 15 to 19 reported seeking information about sexual and reproductive health issues from the Internet. The sex-ed curriculum will reduce the number of students resorting to misleading online content by providing students with the resources to obtain information from “trained health educators [that are] prepared to respond to student questions that expand on the materials presented.”
Although the parent protests aim to protect children, they are short-sighted in their intentions. Children need access to factual resources and an open-minded atmosphere to learn about sexuality and distinguish facts from fiction on the Internet, the playground, or in the locker-room. Thus, it is necessary for children to learn in-depth sexual health before high school in an appropriate setting like a classroom. It is both the schools’ and parents’ responsibility to coordinate a safe and educational environment for students’ personal discovery and accurate comprehension of sexual health.
Photo by Graphics Editor Victor Zhou